Chances are if you market your business online, you’ve probably heard the term “sales funnel” mentioned before. Maybe you’ve read a little bit about funnels, but aren’t really sure what they are, or how they could benefit your business. Especially if you aren’t specifically selling anything, you might have even written off funnels entirely.

The truth is: I also thought all of those things until very, very recently. I’ve worked in the technology industry for almost a decade, so I’m really familiar with how funnels work in the “traditional” sales process. But what about when you’re a small business, or even a one-woman show? I figured it was better to be much more personal in my marketing, and that a funnel was too corporate or too hands-off.

Turns out I was sorely mistaken … those “myths” about funnels I was telling myself aren’t true at all.

Once I started looking around, I realized that most successful business ladies I admired online were already using funnels to engage with their audience + grow their business. If you do this right, you can still be extremely hands-on and engaged with your audience, while still managing to reach more people.

Once I started experimenting with funnels, I noticed a couple things. First, I could use the same concepts that apply in “traditional” sales funnels to engage with my audience/customers even if I didn’t have anything specific to sell. Second, even though funnels can be automated, I was finding myself even MORE engaged with my audience than I would be if I was trying to reach out individually to every follower or client. Funnels are pretty legit like that 🙂

So…now that I’ve hopefully piqued your interest what an awesome tool funnels can be for your business, lemme go into some detail on how you can use funnels to grow your audience + engage with your fans.

#1 Don’t think of it as a “sales funnel”.

This might sound cheesy, but the term sales funnel sort of rubs me the wrong way. Like I said earlier, a sales funnels is a really corporate-ey, money-focused process in my head…and that’s not how I really like to engage with my audience and customers since I’m a small business. (Don’t get me wrong, I like making money…but I also got into this biz to work directly with real people and help them with their problems.)

Instead, I really like the idea of thinking of your funnel as a customer journey. Yeah, that still might be a little jargon-ey and cheesy, but framing it in these terms puts the focus on the customer instead of on the sale. The truth is, not everyone is going to be a good fit for what you’re selling or offering. Not everyone is going to benefit from your business in the same way. And as a small business owner, you have the option + benefit of pivoting your business at any time (if you want) in response to customer feedback. Just like a road trip, the customer journey will include detours, unexpected and fun stops along the way, and may be full of some surprises, too!

Leave the opportunity open for those unexpected twists and turns with your funnel. Use your “funnel” as another tool in your arsenal to learn from your customers and improve your business. It’s about the customer journey, not just the destination/sale.

#2 Offer alternate paths for your audience to take.

I already touched on this earlier, but the truth is that while your audience likely is very similar in a lot of ways, not all of them will be at the same point in their journey. If you only have a single path for them to follow in your funnel, you could be missing out on opportunities to serve them in a different way, or at a different time.

Rather than confuse them with an irrelevant message, or annoy them by putting them through a funnel that doesn’t resonate with them at a certain point, you have the opportunity to give your customers different paths they can follow.

Let me give you an example of what I mean by this:

  1. Customer opts in to your e-mail list by signing up for a freebie on your website
  2. You send them the freebie
  3. Next, you start sending them emails about a paid product related to your freebie
  4. Customer just started their business and isn’t ready to invest in a paid product
  5. Customer keeps getting emails about your paid product
  6. Three days into your sequence, customer gets super annoyed and unsubscribes from your list

It’s up to YOU to intercept the customer at step 4 (or even earlier!) by engaging with them as part of the customer journey you map out for your audience.

A better customer journey will involve learning about your customer along the way, and allowing them opportunities to interact with you and give you feedback about THEIR business and where they’re at. Here are a few ways you might change/improve the example funnel/journey I mapped out above:

  • After you send them a freebie, send them an email inviting them to tell you more about their business. If you’re just starting out, this could be in the form of a Google Hangout or direct dialog over email. If you don’t feel like you have the time to talk to everyone individually, you can do this via a survey right inside the email so it won’t take them more than a second or two to tell you more about their business
  • At the point of the opt-in, ask them for information about themselves. Most email marketing programs let you tag people when they sign up for your list, so you can tailor the customer journey/funnel according to their experience or characteristics
  • Ask them during the sequence if what you’re delivering to them is resonating with them. If not, give them an opportunity to take a different path! Again, you can easily accomplish this with most email marketing programs, which will let you group or tag people based on their interactions with your emails.

#3 Take it outside of email.

While I would strongly recommend you try to collect email addresses for your audience + customers, I definitely don’t think that’s the only place you should be interacting with them. Invite your tribe to hang out with you on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Slack, or even in person! Opting in to your email list is only the first step in their journey. The more with you interact with your audience and encourage them to participate with you online + offline, the more engaged they’ll be.

Bottom line — treat your audience like real people, and they’ll come to know + trust you and your business, too!


Get To Know Our Guest Blogger

Meg runs Your First Shop, an online hub for aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners who want to launch and grow profitable businesses. She’s worked in the technology industry for nearly a decade, owns a pie shop with her sister, and lives in Oak Park, IL with her husband and wacky Weimaraner puppy.

Join Meg for “How to Setup and Feed Your First Sales Funnel” on June 6th at 7 PM.

Funnels 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing + Engaging Your Audience Online - Learn how to create funnels in your biz.

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