The game changer: a client-centered, natural business model

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photo by @ChrisLee, art on slide by Jeffery Slim.

Great content does not make a business

Standing on a stage in front of a group of smiling and supportive audience members, I felt on top of my game.

The message resonated, the content was useful and the delivery connected. I had done my job.

Afterward, as I mingled in the crowd, people pulled me aside and said “I loved the presentation Pam, but you didn’t sell anything! How can I work with you?”

Coming from a blogging and social media culture where direct selling from the stage is frowned upon, I was kind of shocked.  Don’t people hate to be sold to?

I had a profound mental shift right on the spot.

I realized that people hate to be pushed irrelevant crap that does not solve their problems. But they are extremely happy to hear about useful products and programs that will add value to their life and their business.

And if you can’t provide it, they will go elsewhere.

This realization has made me think about my business in a whole new way.

May I invite you to think about yours in a whole new way?

The starting place: what do your people need?

I have been reviewing a lot of business plan templates to find one that fits the way I think about my market.

Many have great information about how I need to structure my business so that I have clear offerings  and remain profitable. But what I felt was missing was a way to think specifically about the needs of my clients.

So I took out a pad of paper and put a big box in the middle labeled “My People.”

Then I asked myself: what do they really need?

My people are corporate employees who want to quit their job and start a business. And four major things popped out:

  • Knowledge:  How do you work through each stage of creating a business? What are the most efficient/effective ways to get things done? Whom can I trust?
  • Encouragement: Giving up a job is mighty scary. Many people are racked with self-doubt. So ongoing doses of “you are not crazy,” “you go girl/guy” and “you are almost at the finish line” are very important.
  • Community: It is very isolating to make a big change by yourself. The more positive, supportive people surround you, the quicker you will make progress and launch your business.
  • Promotion Once businesses get up and running, they need well-connected people to spread the word so they make enough money to quit their day job.

I don’t have great drawing skills, so my son Jeffery cleaned up my original sketch and made it a work of art:


The Natural Path

Once you are clear about what your people need, you want to build a product/service map that follows them through the natural path they walk as they are trying to solve whatever problem you are helping them with (do better with money, start a business, put up a website, organize their garage).

It may help to visualize a person looking down a path, with steps along the way. (thanks again to Jeffery for the image):


In my own coaching work, I know that people generally follow the path outlined in my book:

  • They want assurance they are not crazy for leaving a good corporate job
  • They have to figure out which business to start
  • They have to figure out if there is viability in that market
  • They have to produce and test a product or service
  • They have to tell their loved ones they want to make a major career shift
  • They have to build relationships with their market, and larger tribe of supporters, peers and mentors
  • They have to figure out their personal financial plan
  • They have to create an implementation plan and then make it happen
  • They have to give notice at their job and leave relationships intact if things don’t turn out as planned

Imagine how cool it would be if your people had the exact information and support that they need as they take each step on their path.

And in an Internet Marketing for Smart People style, they would have a wonderful combination of free information and products and services at a variety of price points.

An Example: BabyCenter

A perfect example of a company that really gets this “natural path” perspective is a service I signed up for early in my pregnancy with Josh which is called BabyCenter (see sign up at right under “Your Pregnancy Week by Week. “)

When you enter in your expected due date,  each week you get an email that explains exactly how the baby is growing.  It also includes tips for what you should eat at each stage of pregnancy, and connects you to a discussion forum with other pregnant women.  The service itself is free, but there are plenty of links to paid services, and advertisements targeted to your specific needs. The service continues after your child is born up until they are 9 years old.

I get the exact information I need each week (“What to do when 2-year old is throwing a tantrum in the grocery store”) and I feel very supported.

They have hundreds of thousands of mothers getting this same sequence of autoresponder emails, timed according to individual due dates.

Isn’t that an elegant, non-pushy solution?

Tie it all together

So how do you tie the needs of your market and their natural path together in a business model?

  1. Define the specific needs of your people.
    Take a piece of paper, put them in the middle, and ask yourself “what are the major things they need to fully solve their problem?”
  2. Sketch out the natural path they walk as they address their problem
    Think of a typical client who comes to you for help. What is the first problem they want help solving? Once that problem is solved, where do they tend to go next?  Create a path of steps that ends with them realizing their goals.
  3. Create a combination of great, free information and paid products and services at each step along the way.
    You have wonderful tools like blogs, podcasts, tweets, ebooks and videos to create useful, valuable content which helps your people solve their problems. Couple this with more intensive support (paid teleclasses, workshops, tutorials, coaching, retreats) and they will have everything they need to solve their problem. Remember that many of your audience will solve their problem using your free stuff. But there will always be people who are willing to pay for more specific and individual support.
  4. Sprinkle the products and services with the specific things that your people need.
    Think of ways to strengthen your paid offerings by adding in the specific things your people need. As an example,  the way I meet the needs of my people is to offer Knowledge with blog posts, programs, workshops and retreats. I give them Inspiration with speeches,  interviews with experts and cool people just like them who have made the leap successfully, daily Tweets, Facebook updates, emails and free calls. I give them Community with the Escape Community, and invitations to lots of live events where they can gather with like-minded people. I give them Promotion by Tweeting and blogging about their businesses, mentioning them in my press interviews and making introductions with mentors and customers.
  5. Organize your product road map in a clear and compelling manner and promote the heck out of it!
    Depending on the communication style of your market, you can develop a whole range of promotional materials, including a web-based product map, or a nicely designed set of printed materials. Organize your back-end email autoresponders so that after someone buys a product or program which solves a specific problem, they will be invited (in a non-pushy and genuine way) to the next set of free information/paid offerings in the natural path of their journey.

I am going to be doing a lot of planning in December to lay out a much more clear roadmap of products and services for 2010. I really look forward to your input and invite your feedback and suggestions!

It has taken me awhile to get clear on this need/natural path business model. What is missing? What resonates with you?

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37 Responses to “The game changer: a client-centered, natural business model”

  1. […] December 11, 2009 By admin Leave a Comment via […]

  2. […] here on She is an entrepreneur’s coach and a successful author. Here is one of my favorite posts about selling […]

  3. […] stole the title of this post from Pam Slim’s post about the client-centered business model. She had a realization that being helpful and interesting is great, but people do actually want to […]

  4. […] here on She is an entrepreneur’s coach and a successful author. Here is one of my favorite posts about selling […]

  5. Susan says:

    Hi Pam,

    After a long career in the corporate world of publishing, I finally decided to follow my passion which is to help others achieve optimum health and wellness through nutritional, environmental and lifestyle changes.

    I have been having a lot of trouble with figuring out exactly how I am going to earn a living in this area, but having just stumbled across this blog post, I feel I’ve received some inspiration on how to begin.

    My problem is because of real financial difficulties I keep wavering between looking at fulltime jobs again just to pay bills and get health insurance. I know this will divert me from the path I’m meant to be on, but how do I stay focused and postive when I need to support yoursel (and my two dogs!)?

    I’m heading out to buy your book!
    Thanks so much.

  6. NormG says:

    I am just starting this journey. I am 61 years old. I last worked for a corporation in 2001. I recently lost my sign and graphics business becuase I ran out of money to cover the negative cash flow due to lack of sales precipitated by the recession.

    I find myself paralyzed, stuck, fearful, and worried. I have a home that I can maybe sell and if the price is right, maybe get a “grub-stake” to relocate to a lower cost of living area. I have a small monthly income that will cover the rent and food in another country. (I choose another country because I cannot afford Health Insurnace in the United States and I am a cancer survivor).

    I read Pam’s post on What Kind of Business to Start; my problem isn’t too many ideas, it’s not having any ideas at all. I am considering signing up for her coaching.

    Pam writes:

    “Define the specific needs of your people.”

    Steve C added the comment:

    “What are they really willing to pay for?”

    What if I don’t have any “people”? I had a retail and direct B2B sales company that relied on tens of thousands of dollars worth of design and production equipment and employees, none of which I own anymore or to which I have access. Prior to that I sold syndicated market research and database enhancement, also B2B.

    So there’s a third question; if I can define the needs of “my” people (and I can’t yet) and if I can then determine that they are willing to pay for meeting their needs, do I have the necessary skills, experience, training, credentials, moxie, and capital to offer something (a product or service) to deliver to their needs?

    And that is exactly where I am stuck . . .

    • Barbara Saunders says:

      Norm. I feel for you. Although my specific situation is very different, I have also found that there is a lot of entrepreneurial advice out there – much of it very good – but beyond the psychological pieces, it is very hard to tease out what is relevant.

      I taught entrepreneurial training courses to low-income women in San Francisco. As a new teacher, I was handed a thick binder of curriculum. The vast majority of it referred to owner-operated retail and product business; the vast majority of women in the class were starting up service businesses.

      I spent YEARS mustering up ways to command high hourly consulting fees only to realize that I don’t want to directly render service at all – which means that the whole paradigm needs to go out the window.

  7. jim burke says:

    I admire your clarity and implicit encouragement; you have a marvelous way of distilling a complex message into action steps.
    Thank you

  8. Karen Tax says:

    I love Pam’s post and the comments I’ve read! I’d like to add another component that I think is critical: if a path is going to be natural for you (think authentic) then you’ve got to start with the question ‘who am I?’ or ‘what are my gifts?’ otherwise you risk going down a path that is anything but natural to you as you grow your business. I always think both/and to keep my business in integrity with what I want to be creating: both me and my clients.

    Then, when you look at the intersection of ‘who am I’ and ‘who are my people’ – and ‘what is our learning edge’ (mine and theirs) – this is when real magic happens.

    I hope this helps!

  9. […] Escape from Cubicle Nation, Pam Slim Pam Slim, of Escape from Cubicle Nation fame, shares 5 steps on how she develops a game-changing client-centred natural business model. Great stuff – but, as they say, the devil’s in the details. Thanks for this, Pam […]

  10. Hans Hageman says:

    This is a great help for me as it resonates with my learning style. I have given up a mid-six figure job to pursue freedom. I can examine several different modalities as I take on 2010.
    .-= Hans Hageman´s last blog ..Lessons on nonprofit boards in a “post-racial society” =-.

  11. Your post caught me right where I am this month. I, too have a pad of paper out, splashed with with a mind map of sorts (it’s buried under a doodle of a kangaroo).

    I love this. I hate this. My brain strains with the effort.

    I need a snack.

    That’s the only thing I think you left out there. Preparing the right snack before you start planning is key.

    My favorite thing to take away from your post is that you took out that pad of paper and wrote “My People” on it. No software to download, no system to learn. Just you and your pen. So simple, and makes it a lot easier to get started on the actual planning.

  12. Excellent as usual, Pam 🙂 Brilliant and crystal-clear. I’ll keep it as a permanent inspiration document for my upcoming project. I’ll simply memorize it, digest it, and… apply it! Thanks a lot for being my mentor!
    .-= Amadou M. Sall´s last blog ..“Twitter in FIGS Through Crowdsourced Translation” =-.

  13. WOW — what an incredibly useful post! Loved the step-by-step analysis, so spot on. One additional useful step to add to the mix (even before asking, “What do my people need?”) is to clarify “Who are my people?” Taking the time to identify the characteristics of your ideal target market early on helps give meaning to the essential steps that follow.
    .-= Nancy Collamer´s last blog ..Reinvent Your Career: From "Weak" to Wow! =-.

  14. The simplest questions are always the most critical, aren’t they?! Thanks, Pam, for bringing me back to the always fruitful “What do my clients need?” question, which can often get obscured by talk of things like autoresponders and product funnels– if you’re not starting with that all-impotant question, you get nowhere! Holidaytime is a perfect time to spend with pen and paper and start sketching out some stuff, and youve inspired me to do it!
    P.S. Alexis– I actually liked your first post, and thanks for sharing that it often takes several years to sort this stuff out. I’m almost three years into my business and jar starting to feel like I’m wrapping my head around it, so that makes me feel a little less crazy!

  15. Rob says:

    Amazing post, Pam, most insightful. This really helps me towards a more natural feeling (and perhaps realistic) business model to work from.

    Very likely one of those posts to keep coming back to at different stages to elicit new insights at different stages of design.

    Loving Jeffrey’s artwork too!

  16. As always, your posts are the few that really resonate for me. Great points – I helps me think more clearly about what I have to do differently.

  17. Kelly Pratt says:

    Nail on the head. As usual! Thanks Pam. I needed this post.

  18. Kena says:

    This post is fantastic! I have been struggling with how to offer more value to my readers while building a business and this post has pointed me in the right direction! I recently came across this blog and love it. Thank you so much.

  19. Adam Martin says:

    Pam, awesome post. Great information. Also, I am about two thirds of the way through the book. Thank you for the insights and information.
    .-= Adam Martin´s last blog ..How To: Replicate style of the 1950s =-.

  20. Thanks Pam for some great advice!

    I was “downsized” so the decision to leave the corporate world was thrust upon me, but I was not happy there for some time, so it was a relief.

    With the blessing of enough money to take some time to re-educate myself, all on my own, I was able to figure out, with a little help from friends, a path I wanted to take. It was a rockier road than I anticipated and I wish I had your great words of advice sooner and I look forward to more posts that will, I am sure, help me make 2010 a banner year for my new endeavors.

    Love the artwork, simple, elegant and it’s from your “baby.”
    .-= Marla Schulman´s last blog ..Thanks-Giving for Nate & Paul & Seth & Lily & Hilary =-.

  21. fas says:

    In short its not easy but hardwork and dedication ensure you get there, some day one day!
    .-= fas´s last blog ..Questions & Answers – Round 5 (Car Buying Advice) =-.

  22. Alan Dayley says:

    This is a great story, Pam. Thanks.

    I’ve not yet chosen an independent career path yet. This advice is just as valid for me in my current full-time employment. If I really lay out what my employer wants, I can be outstanding in that environment too.
    .-= Alan Dayley´s last blog ..Product Owner Discussion at PhxSUG =-.

  23. Diane Hunter says:

    Pam, thank you for your wisdom. You provide a brightly lit, clear path for me to follow to develop my business and I’m ever so grateful. Perfect timing for a newbie!

  24. Steve C says:

    Interesting post Pam.

    The question, “What do they really need?” should be followed up with “What are they really willing to pay for?”

    Nonprofits can get away asking/answering only the first question, but businesses cannot get away without answering the second.


    .-= Steve C´s last blog ..Are Your Skills Commodities? =-.

  25. Baker says:

    I stopped reading after the first 7 words…

    It was all I needed to have an epiphany. Thank you. Perfect timing.
    .-= Baker´s last blog ..Excess is a Liability =-.

  26. I am glad to know I am not the only one rethinking things this month;) But it is really a never ending discovery – we think we are leading our clients and customers down a path- but in a similar fashion they will lead us to sell them what they need – if we listen that is. I find the marketplace tends to be self correcting for any business that hears with an open mind what the customer wants. Just start selling something, and they will steer you to the correct products and services.
    .-= Dale Callahan´s last blog ..Reading List for the Entrepreneur of Tomorrow =-.

  27. Kimmoy says:

    First of all, your son is so talented! Way to go for raising an in-house graphic artist Pam! LOL

    The clarity you have on your market needs is unbelievably crystsal clear, I found myself nodding throughout the entire post. Thanks for this blueprint, will definitely come in handy as I map out 2010.

  28. Tonya Leigh says:

    What I love about your posts is that they are always so full of practical content that is everything you just mentioned in this post: full of knowledge, support and a sense of community.

    As I continue to spread my message of helping women lose weight, I can hear your voice asking me, “What do your people need!” Thank you so much for providing me with this question many months ago. It has helped me grow my business because I really listen and then respond.

    BTW, your son is quite the artist!

  29. Janet Hilts says:

    Such clarity, simplicity and logic, Pam! Thanks for making such perfect sense and answering my own dilemmas. Aaaaaahhhh [sigh of relief after trying to make do with other maps that haven’t clicked].

    You’re consistently a breath of fresh air, Pam, and I really appreciate you.
    .-= Janet Hilts´s last blog ..Know, Like & Trust Factor Run Amok: Speaking & Fear of Rejection – Part 3 =-.

  30. Alexis says:

    Pam, what a wonderful experience you had! You’ve stumbled upon the need for what I call a 6 or 7 figure money map (depending on how big your financial goals are) and what’s so great about having a clear money map is that you can create a real deal business financial model based on it and then your marketing plan based on that.

    I’ve found it generally takes about two to three years of business for a business owner to have enough clarity about their own offerings (and what their peeps need) to create a clearly thought out money map.

    If you can work with a coach and get clarity earlier in your business, it can save you time/energy that you may spend on creating stuff that doesn’t fit into the map.

    I’ve also found it is nearly impossible to create a money map for myself without coaching. I’m simply too close to myself and my offerings to get the 30000 foot view necessary to create a clear map.

    Pam, DM me if you’d like my help with your map.
    .-= Alexis´s last blog ..Asking the Hard Questions =-.

    • I just read this comment again and jeez it sounds ridiculous. I wrote it while sitting in a seminar during a break on my iPhone and was clearly distracted. LOL. Note to self: stay present in one thing and don’t write blog comments when distracted or you will sound like a used car salesman. 🙂
      .-= Alexis Martin Neely´s last blog ..Asking the Hard Questions =-.

  31. Hello Pam,

    Thank you. Thank you for provoking my own mental shift. I’ve been struggling with this one over and over, again and again. I love sharing my knowledge and teaching new skills to others, adamantly refusing to sell for the same reasons you expressed here in your post. As an owner of a start-up company, my financial woes are no different than anyone else. With 2010 approaching, I have begun mapping out the year ahead. You have now provided me with much to consider as I enter into the new year and strive to accomplish meeting new milestones for my company.


  32. Hiro Boga says:

    Pam, this is wonderful! Such a clear, concise, elegant model for building a business organically, in response to your clients’ needs…

    Each time my business goes through a growth spurt, its structure has to shape-shift somewhat to accommodate the new growth. I’m going to print out this post and put it on the wall above my desk to remind me that there are clear steps I can follow.

    Thank you so much for this helpful post!

    Love, Hiro
    .-= Hiro Boga´s last blog ..There’s No Place Like Home. . .Creating the story of your business in 2010 =-.

  33. Amy says:

    Pam this was super helpful. Quick question – What is a web-based product map? Can you point to a good example?
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Filling in the Blanks =-.

  34. Pete says:

    Right on Pam, this post resonates strongly with me! Great job with the graphics, shout out to Jeffrey, woot woot.

  35. Hi Pam,

    I love this! I love Jeffrey’s drawings, and I love the clarity with which you map out how to best use a business plan to serve your people. And I love the example you gave of That’s one of the most clear and useful sites out there for the population it serves.
    Thank you for this wonderful perspective!
    Love, Nerissa