An authentic business is financially viable and deeply meaningful to you. You make enough money to support you, but the activity itself feels worthwhile, even if you had to do it for free.

However, it’s not just about “doing what you love”… not just a hobby. It is an Authentic Business, a true livelihood.

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to help many people make progress in their own authentic businesses, and I’ve been operating my own successfully for a decade.

Here is my current framework on how to effectively launch an authentic business:

There are 4 layers of activity to a successful authentic business.

Each one is always happening simultaneously. However, when you first start, you begin with the first layer, and when you’ve gotten that into a rhythm, you then add a second layer, and so forth.

Once you have all 4 layers, you are operating a successful authentic business.

Layer 1  Authentic Content Marketing

The most generous — and soulful — way to start and grow an authentic business is through content. This is the first layer, the foundation for everything.

Consider your various interests and passions. Which one would you love to create a business with? It’s your passion, so you are naturally energized to talk about it. This is called creating authentic content. It can be your writing, your videos, your images, your audio, or the links you curate (gather and share) from other sources.

As you share your passion online, you’ll naturally draw kindred spirits to you.

Where to share your content?

I’d recommend using a larger platform such as Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Reddit, Medium, or Quora.

In the ancient past — when we lived a small villages for life — we had to try to please everyone, or risk being ostracized.

Today, the internet is like an unlimited collection of villages — of every style and belief.

You can truly be yourself, and there will be enough people in the world who resonate with your style. Gather your kindred spirits through your authentic content, and create your own “village.”

There are three important factors here:

  1. Authentic  Be willing to share your point of view, even if it is controversial. The simplest way to get started? Read articles or watch videos from others in your field, and ask yourself: “What do I disagree with? What’s missing from this piece of content? Can I fully support the values here, or what would I say instead? What do I agree with that I’d like to point out?” And then write it or record it. To be authentic is to share your honest opinion.
  2. Relevant — Within your area of expertise, gather the questions that your ideal clients/audience have. Which would you love to answer? And which problems are you hearing that they have? Which of their problems would you love to solve? In other words, talk about the things that energize your audience, that help or inspire them.
  3. Consistent  Commit to posting content regularly. No matter what. You might commit to a daily (M-F if you take weekends off) or a weekly rhythm, but keep at it. Consistency is important for your own skill-building. Follow a schedule — practice creating on demand. Of course having occasional respites of 1–2 weeks, e.g. Christmas break, is acceptable to any audience.

By doing Authentic Content Marketing, you will clarify your message, draw forth an ideal audience to you, and grow a body of work that sets you apart from everyone else in your industry.

When someone needs your type of service, you’ll be the first one they think of. When they have a friend who needs something you offer, they will share about you.

How do you make it easy for others to refer you? By creating authentic, relevant, consistent content. The easiest way for anyone to refer you is by sharing your free content with a friend who needs it.

How to measure progress in this first layer of activity?

  • Are you getting real engagers… people who post comments saying that your content is helpful or uplifting for them?
  • Are you getting real subscribers? People who are subscribing to your newsletter because they don’t want to miss your content. This is why I don’t recommend opt-in freebies or telesummit list-building. To start a relationship with subscribers by requiring them to give you email address before you give them content? It’s not as authentic nor effective as just having an honest sign-up form that invites them to get your best content once a month/week. You can see my own example here: George Kao’s Newsletters.
  • Are you getting real sharers? People who share your content forward out of genuine delight, not because they want to get a reward or win some contest?

You can speed up your audience-building by doing paid advertising (e.g. Facebook Post Boosts) to reach more people with your content.

You can speed up the relevance of your content by doing keyword research: what are people actually searching for on google, youtube, facebook, etc? I like using the free tool KeywordsEverywhere.

It would also be wise to be doing 1–1 outreach, to the influencers in your network, whenever you have a popular piece of content that you believe their network might especially enjoy.

Layer 2  Audience Research

You’ve started to gather a real audience (engagers, subscribers, sharers.) This is the “village” you’ve created on the internet.

You’ve gathered them not by clever marketing tactics, but simply by being your most helpful self, through the first layer of activity: Authentic, Relevant, Consistent Content.

Your audience enjoy who you authentically are, and how helpful and consistent your content is.

Connect personally with as many of your audience members as you have time for. Even having a private conversation with 10 of your fans is doing better than most business owners who are focused on marketing from their own head, and missing out on relationship-building with their audience, which is where truly relevant marketingcan come from.

You can reach them via Facebook messaging (don’t do a group message, just individually message each person.) If possible, invite them to a private video call so that in conversation you can also see their facial expressions.

Find out what problems they’re facing or goals they’d love to reach, that your business can help with, for example:

  • “What are you struggling with, as related to (the thing I want to do)?”
  • “What questions do you wish you could find answers to (within my area of expertise)?”

Pay attention to how they are wording their needs and desires and questions.
These words and phrases might become “keywords” you use to create content that reaches more people just like them.

The most important part  is to  find out what they have spent money on — in the area of your passion or in a related area:

  • What kinds of products and services did they try already?
  • How about programs, events, or memberships?
  • What did they like about these things they bought?
  • What didn’t they like?
  • What kind of product, service, or program do they wish existed?

Your income comes from your audience’s spending. This is why you want to find out their existing buying patterns. The more you understand it, the more you can see how your business can naturally slot into their buying behavior, rather than trying to make them spend money in ways they’re not familiar with.

What if your audience has never before bought they kind of thing you sell? It can eventually happen if you keep sharing authentic, relevant content, thereby building a trusting relationship with your audience. Then, they might be willing to try out your product/service even if they wouldn’t have bought it before.

Don’t put on the sales pressure that doesn’t feel authentic to you, and will create bad word of mouth later.

Instead, the more natural way is to sell something they’re already buying, or have tried before, or were already considering buying. The conversations you have with them will help you understand their buying intent so that you can serve that intent more effectively than they can easily find elsewhere.

You can also learn a lot about what offers they might want, by looking for patterns in your audience’s engagement with your content. What topics do they most enjoy from you? Might you then create a low-fee online workshop that dives more into that topic? (See my examples here: George Kao’s Workshops.)

The more you understand them, the better you’re able to serve them. The more trust they have in you, the more they will use your product/service and thereby get the results they couldn’t get elsewhere.

Besides doing audience interviews as I’ve described above, you can also research your audience in these ways:

  • Keyword Research
  • Ask in Online Groups
  • Email a survey to your list
  • Listen in your everyday “conversations” with clients & prospective clients
  • Ask other industry influencers what they’re hearing

If you’re interested in my methodology for audience research, take my training: Resonant Marketing.

Layer 3  Launch to Learn

When you have some clarity from these conversations, when you start to notice a pattern of what product/service seems to be missing (or not good enough) for your audience, then it’s time to add the third layer — launch your offerings with learning as the key priority.

Your offering — service, product, event, package, etc — is an experiment, testing whether you’ve really understood the wants of your ideal audience. What you think they “need” might not be obvious to them — they know what they “want.” You’d be wisest to focus on their wants in the marketing of your offerings. In other words, create offerings using their stated problems as the front door. You can then serve their wants and their deeper needs through your products and services.

This is where you are practicing creating a better sales page and conducting website user interviews to learn.

Remember that this layer, “launch to learn” is not about success or failure.

It’s about implementing the information you’ve gathered in the previous layer (Audience Research) as well as what you learn from ongoing marketing.

All along the way, you are still engaging in the first 2 layers: Content & Research.

Layer 4  Growing What Works

Through your various launches, you’ll discover occasional offerings that your audience loves the best, that they’re most likely to buy.

Now, you can add the “final” layer, which is unlimited — continual growth of what is working!

This is where you:

  • Keep improving the effectiveness & delight of your service/product, which then creates more authentic word-of-mouth marketing.
  • Keep improving the alignment & accuracy between your marketing materialsand the actual customer experience. In other words, sell only what your average client actually experiences when they use your services/products. This is different from most (inauthentic) marketing which hypes up their marketing by talking only about tiny minority of unusual successes.
  • Grow your marketing via paid ads.
  • Be doing 1–1 outreach to influencers of your network to let them know which product/service your audience loves the most, and that theirs might also.
  • Explore joint-ventures and collaborations with other authentic businesses.

You can apply these 4 layers to launching any authentic business, and to keep innovating and creating additional offerings.

My final encouragement to you is — all along the way of applying these layers, keep on returning to, and being a champion for, your highest and deepest values.

By doing so, you fulfill the true purpose of your authentic business.

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About the Author
This article was written by George Kao, Authentic Business Coach & Author: “Authentic Content Marketing” and “Joyful Productivity”, see more.