You’re ready to live a life of freedom, flexibility and ease. You want the ‘laptop lifestyle’ – working from wherever you please, be it somewhere exotic overseas, lying poolside, cocktail in hand.

Or simply the local café, where you can get your work done in between doing canteen duty at your kids’ school, walking the dog along the beach, and knocking off early in the afternoon – because you can.

It should be fairly straightforward, right? Except that, despite your gorgeous website and branding, regular blogging, burgeoning numbers of Instagram followers, and regular email newsletters, there’s no growth, no fat profits, no freedom and flexibility, nor living the dream.

You’ve tried running webinars. You’ve done Facebook ads. You’ve done guest blogging and pitched to your favourite media. You’ve written the e-book and the e-course. You’ve learnt SEO. So where’s the pay-off you were promised?

If you feel that you’ve done a lot of learning, tried all the techniques and, despite all your hard work, there’s still something missing that’s stopping your business from realising the profits you’ve been seeking, there’s likely one secret you haven’t yet discovered. It’s not a sophisticated sales funnel. It’s not the perfect combination of persuasive copy. It’s not some special software that manages everything while the money comes rolling in. And it’s not the killer PA or VA or business coach.

There’s one thing that separates entrepreneurs whose businesses take off and those who keep on keeping on, stuck in a holding pattern of just getting by. The secret is people.

High-tech versus face-to-face

One of the biggest mistakes people when they’re new to online business make is believing that it’s all about the technology.

Sure, you need a website. You need email marketing software and an email list. And yes, one of those whiz-bang, well-optimised sales funnels are highly useful too.

But underlying all of this is people – relationships with your prospects, clients, influencers, referral partners – who make your business work. Those ‘internet famous’ people you look up to? The ones with the sophisticated sales funnels, the 6-figure launches and the plethora of online programs and products? They don’t sit behind their screen tap-tap-tapping away all day. They take relationship building seriously – meeting up with people, participating in live events and asking plenty of questions.

The art of the ask

Nobody wants to look like a fool in front of other people. Most people are far more comfortable giving than taking. When we translate this into our business, it can mean that we’re reluctant – or even adverse – to asking people for insights that would help our businesses.

Even if you consider yourself an extrovert or can name five or six clients that you know really well, is it possible that you’ve never interviewed them in depth about their problems, anxieties, issues or inconveniences? Do you know what they really deeply desire? And how your business could provide the best case scenario for bringing this to fruition?

Ask yourself honestly – have you been making assumptions on behalf of your clients and prospects?

If you have, schedule a time to meet with them right now and write out a list of questions. You’ll need to actively stop yourself jumping to conclusions from what people say. Instead, pretend you’re a scientist in a laboratory. Bring an open mind. Take good notes. Listen closely.

No clients

If you’re brand new in business and thinking to launch an online course – don’t! First, you need to be highly familiarity with exactly who you’re seeking to reach.

There are plenty of ways you can do that. Think creatively! Join an interest group related to the people you’re seeking to target. Join some Facebook communities related to your target audience to watch and listen. Study who your target audience typically talks with on their journey towards your business and see how you might volunteer your time to get involved.

Rather than jumping into a brand new product, service, or online offering, take a moment to listen, research, watch, and study your target audience. These are real people, with real concerns. Stop hypothesising and start meeting them.

online business success

Take the online offline

Too many people continue to believe that the online and offline arenas are distinct. But the most successful entrepreneurs understand that these closely correlate and reinforce each other.

Especially if you want to build an online business, with digital products, courses or membership programs, it’s important to have an offline strategy too. That might mean talking at other’s events, running your own events, hosting ‘in real life’ (IRL) meet-ups, running regular classes or courses, or simply meeting up with others on a one-to-one basis.

In the low-trust online arena, if a web visitor sees you’re have a ‘real life’ event coming up, even if it’s in another country, this helps build trust that you are a real person and not a fly-by-night fraudster.

Getting familiar with sales conversations

It’s amazing how many business owners I meet will do anything to avoid having a real conversation with people about buying. While we may well be happy to answer people’s questions, when it comes to discussing money, negotiating terms and conditions or answering objections that people have to purchasing, many business owners would rather do their taxes or clean the toilets!

Sales conversations are part-and-parcel of running your own business – yes, even an online business. You’ll still have sales conversations via email. You’ll still have people asking you to convince them to invest in your online product/service/program/course. You’ll still need to deal with objections to your pricing or negotiations on your terms and conditions.

Sometimes these conversations aren’t a lot of fun. Sometimes they’re downright difficult. But the only way that I know to get better at something is to practice.

When people raise objections to buying from you, they may well be asking you to convince them. If they weren’t open to being convinced, it’s unlikely they would have engaged with you in the first place – they would simply have ignored you and walked away. Raising objections is also an invaluable learning experience for you – what others say (and what they don’t say) are all highly useful for integrating into your sales page and process.

Quick ideas for how to talk and listen more

Get on the phone!

Make a habit of calling people every week – perhaps at the same time every day or the same day of the week. Pick up the phone and follow up with prospects, clients, colleagues, competitors and others in your community.

Survey your community

Surveying is massively useful, whether it’s a quick-and-easy poll or deeper, open-ended questions. Make this a regular practice in your business.

Ask people to reply to your email newsletters

Post a real question that you want an answer to in each and every email newsletter you send.

Run regular events

Events take a lot of effort and tend to be expensive to run, but they’re awesome at building your skills and reputation, and giving people a greater sense of trust in you.

Get involved in other people’s communities

It’s easy to stick to your own community. God knows you’re busy and have enough to do. But getting involved in other’s communities, both online and offline, is a great way to meet new people.

Set up regular Skype dates with influencers

Write a list of all the business owners and entrepreneurs that you respect or admire. Make a habit of reaching out to learn what they’re up to. Your network is invaluable and people will always prefer to refer others to those they know.

Thank people

I’m continually amazed by how few people make a habit of thanking others. I’m (mostly) very happy to respond to requests for help and I often don’t receive so much as a one-word note of thanks in return. It’s easy to be grateful and it’s excellent practice as a business owner and human being.

All the tools and secrets I use to craft a people-centric approach to business are shared with you in Hustle & Heart, so that you can stop guessing what people want and start delivering it.