Want to scale? Figure out who your primary customer is first

Heather reflects on how laying the foundation for national expansion has helped Doyenne home in on its target audience.

When Amy and I started Doyenne in 2012, we knew we wanted to build entrepreneurial ecosystems where women would thrive. We knew we wanted to put money and entrepreneurial skills in the hands of women and that we needed to influence the local entrepreneurial community to become more inclusive. 

But we didn’t know exactly who our customer was. 

We incorporated as a nonprofit because we wanted to support entrepreneurs from every background, and we knew that charging the market rate for services like one-on-one coaching and professional development programming would get in the way of our mission to level the entrepreneurial playing field. 

But just because we offer services below-market-rate does not mean that the rules about scaling startups don’t apply to us. And it doesn’t mean we can’t strive to become less dependent on outside funding sources by developing our own revenue streams.

We’ve crunched the numbers, and by the end of 2020, with just Madison and Milwaukee up and going, we expect Doyenne to be 60 percent funded through revenue. This means we’ll spend less time applying for grants and soliciting for donations, and we’ll have more time for developing entrepreneurs, mobilizing ecosystems, and raising money to invest in ventures led by women and people of color. And it means our entrepreneur members will have access to a national network of peers and mentors to expand their knowledge base, network, and business success. 

Our goal this year has been to build a foundation for scaling Doyenne into a national organization. Amy and I worked towards removing ourselves from the day-to-day operations of Doyenne Madison by hiring a local director, and we launched Doyenne in Milwaukee. We’ve spent the year overhauling our website to handle event registration in multiple cities, and to support members no matter where they are located with a virtual community and a Learning Lab.

And finally, we’ve completely revised our membership structure and programming. 

We’ve been gathering data over the last two years to better understand what our members want from Doyenne, and how they actually engage with us. We’ve listened to your feedback, and we’ve honed in on who we serve best. Our new membership tiers are designed around those we serve best. 

That means we’ll probably say goodbye to some of our members. We don’t want to, but we realize that it’s necessary. In order to focus our growth on products that best serve our ideal customers, we have to recognize who our customers are not.

Doyenne exists to serve entrepreneurs who have a vision for scaling up their business to a regional or national audience. 

To be scalable, you must have a vision beyond building a brand around yourself and/or your current offering(s), meaning you’re planning on building a team and a business that will sustain if you exit.

To be scalable, you need to have a vision for a product or service line for a customer base beyond your direct market or physical location. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean you plan to hire hundreds of employees one day. You could have a vision for a software tool that you can sell to thousands of customers all over the world with a small team. And it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a brick-and-mortar component to your business to pay the bills right now, but it does mean that you have a bigger end-game, and you’re laying the foundation for future plans and growth. 

We have chosen to focus on scalable businesses for several reasons: 

  • There are already some amazing services in local communities that exist to serve solopreneurs, consultants, freelancers, and brick-and-mortar service businesses. 
  • Scalable businesses have the largest gender disparity — 95% of women-owned businesses make less than $1 million in annual revenue, and 85% of all VC funding still goes to all-male teams
  • If we have more women building successful startups, we’ll get to a place where there are more women serving on the boards of startups, investing in other startups, and having a greater influence on the products and services the world uses.

If you feel like you no longer fit within Doyenne’s membership, there are still many ways you can be part of Doyenne, and support our mission, our members, and communities in which we work. 

We host Informational Sessions that are open to anyone who wants to be involved with building a more equitable entrepreneurial ecosystem to learn how they can be part of the organization, whether as a member, a volunteer, or a supporter. 

As we’ve gathered feedback, we have found that many of our members who do fit our customer profile are not currently engaged with our services as much as they could be. For them, our new pricing structure might sound steep because they may feel that they are not getting enough value out of Doyenne to justify what they are paying now. 

If that’s you, we don’t want to lose you. We know that one barrier to fully engaging is simply knowing what your membership includes and how to take advantage of that. We are continually refining our communication processes to address that, and we welcome your feedback on the best communication forms for you. 

But we also recognize that members can get in their own way when it comes to engaging with Doyenne. Over and over again, we hear the same refrain from entrepreneurs: “I’m not ready…” to meet with a coach, to attend a retreat, to be highlighted, etc. 

When you say “I’m not ready,” what I hear you saying is that you’re letting fear get in the way of professional development. We are here to guide you to the next step in your path, no matter where you are on your journey. 

Now, it’s one thing if you’ve identified a concrete milestone that you want to achieve before attending a Doyenne program, for example, wanting to speak with 25 potential customers. But if you’re just putting off attending a Doyenne program because you don’t know what the next step in your venture should be, then that’s the BEST time to come to a Doyenne program. If you can’t define what ‘ready’ looks like, then you REALLY need to engage with Doyenne. 

That’s when you’re swirling, and we are here to throw you a lifeline and get you back on a path toward growth. 

When you look at the services offered at each membership level, understand that we offer them all because we believe entrepreneurs need to engage with many of these things in order to grow their businesses without getting burned out or hitting a wall. 

Joining Doyenne should be a strategic investment in your venture’s growth and your professional development.

If you’re paying $25 or $50 per month, we want you to be engaging with Doyenne all year long, by participating in our programming, meeting with coaches, connecting with other entrepreneurs, and showcasing your business to the broader community.

When you begin to re-engage with Doyenne in 2020, you may find that the reason your business has not taken off yet is that you’re trying to serve too many people. That’s what we’ve learned in 2018 and 2019. 

But when you engage in a mentor-led process to refine your vision and discover who your true customers are, you’ll find that the path forward is clear. You’ll have new energy to tackle the to-do list that may still be endless, but at least you’ll know that every task moves you forward. 

That is how I feel looking ahead to 2020, and I can’t wait to see where the year takes us. 

The new Doyenne membership will launch in January 2020. If you’d like to register for an Informational Session to learn more about the new membership and ask questions, please register here