Over these past sixty days, I’ve interviewed 100 potential customers about challenges they face and services they feel they need as part of the #milvalchal. I just finished this past Thursday, and the entire process has been enlightening and humbling, all at the same time.
I started socialchangenation.com 8 months ago with an idea to create a podcast (i.e. an online radio show) interviewing social entrepreneurs. I had planned on it monetizing and generating an audience very quickly based on what I assumed people wanted.
The truth was pretty far removed from that. While I was fortunate to have a teaching income that was flexible and kept the bills paid, I was also unfortunate that, because of this base income, I was not forced to get out and ask people what they wanted, and then develop products based around their needs. The result of my initial efforts was a podcast that did not monetize, did not generate an audience, and did not help me develop products that people would actually pay me for.
Enter the #milvalchal – this forced me to take podcast interviews a step further, and actually start asking my interview guests about what they truly needed, and what they would pay for. The process was highly enlightening and helped me begin to understand how to take this platform I had built and turn it into something that people would get enough value out of that they would start to open their wallets and pay for.
Let me explain more fully:
The #milvalchal required that I interview 100 different people who I could potentially serve. At the end of the challenge I ended up interviewing the following customer segments:
-60(ish) cause based startups who needed help finding funding, legally structuring their businesses, partnering with non-profits, and branding/marketing their cause and business.
-20(ish) students in social entrepreneurship who wanted better resources to help them navigate the cause based job market.
-20(ish) companies who had needs in content marketing. (NOTE: This is not my core area, however, content marketing is the backbone of how I market my own business, so I have generated revenue and see a model for continual growth in fulfilling content marketing contracts with other businesses.
Here are the primary conclusions I found across my interviews:
1.) Cause based businesses struggle most with legal issues, how to fund their operations, find cause minded customers, and how to brand their for-profit/for-purpose missions. After my interviews, I became even more confident that online content like webinars, e-books, and online courses would be something that these companies would pay for – provided I could offer value that would help them take their business to the next level.
2.) In addition to online products, I could offer hands on consulting services to a small number of cause based businesses that would generate enough revenue to make my business ‘minimally viable’ (i.e. throwing off enough profit to keep the lights on).
3.) There is likely a market for creating curriculum in social entrepreneurship for college students who want to learn from people who are actually doing it. However, the people who will pay me money for this are not the students, but their professors (or at least, it is the professors who will require the students to buy the materials). I need to interview the professors now, rather than the students I interviewed for the #milvalchal.
4.) Content marketing is a relatively new trend, and there are many startup/mid-stage businesses who realize the power of content and want to use it to achieve expert positioning in their niche. I know they would pay me for things such as blog posts, podcasts, webinars, newsletters, and social media management if I could prove I’d add value, however, this is not the core area of my biz, rather, it’s a marketing tool that I leverage heavily. So in this area, I’m faced with the challenge of a high probability of being able to generate revenue, but at the risk of sacrificing my core business (and personal) mission.
In all, I left the challenge even more convinced that cause based businesses (and startups) have a deep need for legal, financial, and branding tools that I could provide. I also left with a better idea of how I could build those tools in ways to position myself as an expert in this niche, and then sell premium versions of free information (e.g. my podcast) that I’m already offering.
I believe there are ways I could generate revenue by creating curriculum for the college/university market, but I teach in this space, and know how difficult that can be, so I see this as a long term plan.
The content marketing piece for both cause and non-cause businesses could be very lucrative, but I’m still torn on whether I want to sacrifice my core mission of supporting cause based businesses in order to make money serving the content needs of traditional businesses. I’m certainly not opposed to that, but I also don’t want to go after short term cash at the expense of long term viability of my business.
In all, the milvalchal clarified my focus while offering me other avenues to keep my business afloat in the startup stage.
How will I use the $5k?
First, I need to improve the legal foundation of my business, (e.g. set up an LLC from my sole proprietorship) so I will spend $500 doing that.
Beyond that, I will invest $2000 in marketing a guide I have currently developed that highlights 50 businesses. 50 causes. 50 ways to shop and change the world. This is something that will position me as an expert in this space and also is already set to monetize with a premium version (where it essentially becomes a lifetime magazine subscription offering the latest cause based news and coupons). So, I will use the money to get this in front of 15,000 people, and close 1,000 in our premium version, resulting in $10,000 in revenue.
I would then also like to invest $1000 into creating and $1,000 into marketing an online course on Social Entrepreneurship. I’d like to reach 250 highly qualified social entrepreneurs/cause based founders, and close 50 of them at a $297 price point for a 12 week online course which offers mentorship from current social entrepreneurs who had succeeded. This would generate $14,850 in revenue.
So, I plan on the $5k yielding $24,850 in revenue for my business. Because this is online content, my costs are low, so I would hope for $20,000 in profit from this. I also plan on it helping me to reach 20,000 new people – even if they don’t buy from me, I hope that each of these 20,000 will benefit from the information an resources I offer in some way.
Let me know your thoughts/critiques on this – I’m ready to rock and roll on this, and am very inspired (and motivated) by everything I learned, and by the community I’m now a part of!
Social Change Nation