Are you like Julia?

She signed up for every free e-course that she could find.

She’s downloaded just about all the free templates, e-books and worksheets that are out there (and most — if not all — are languishing among digital dust bunnies on her hard drive).

She’s attended every telesummit, watched every video series, and listened to every podcast.

And STILL her business refused to grow.

Then she got a deluge of emails about a special school that promised to teach her everything she needed to know to be successful online.

It would make her hot.

It would make her happy.

It would make all her big dreams come true.

The only problem?

It had a hefty price tag: a cool $2K.

But what in the world were her dreams worth, if they weren’t worth $2K?

So she whipped out her credit cards and…well…you know the rest.

Unfortunately, Julia’s biz problems stemmed from something much more basic. Yours probably do, too.

Assuming that what you’re selling is 98% awesome, one of two things continues to trip you up:

1. You apply too many tactics without a cohesive, focused strategy; or

2. You don’t apply enough of what you’ve “learned” from consuming all those freebies.

The truth is that the only thing that will move you forward is thoughtful, strategic, and — this is key — regular action.

Even if that’s just one baby step every single day.

The best place to start? With a plan. (YOUR plan.)

Or at least a framework that outlines the who-what-where-how-and-why of your business goals and how you’d like to get there. (Please don’t take someone else’s playbook, recipe, formula, etc. and apply it directly to your business.)

If you’re like most people, you weren’t born knowing how to create a marketing plan that works for you.

That’s okay. That just means there’ll be a bit of a learning curve.

Dig up one of those freebies you’ve already downloaded and use that as a starting point.

Ask yourself the questions and give yourself a little time to find the answers.

If you’ve done that and you’re still getting nowhere fast, it’s probably time to look for a coach/mentor.

Someone whose values and process feel right. To you. In your bones.

Do more than listen to their highly paid affiliates. Talk to former clients. Be discerning.

And make sure they’re not promising you a silver bullet for the proverbial arm and a leg. (Want more tips? Find them here.)

I’m gonna level with you: Silver bullet promises (at ANY price) can NOT be kept.

All the slick, shiny promo videos and affiliate testimonials in the world won’t change that fact.

You don’t need to pay big bucks (or go into debt) to get big value.

You just need to slow down to the speed of awareness before you click the buy button.

How do you do that?

By having actual, real-world conversations with those you’re considering working with. And by checking in with your gut.

Is the person you’re interested in working with using any high pressure tactics? Trying too hard to convince you that if you don’t take action right now, your business has no hope of succeeding?

Do they facilitate their own group programs? Or are those online forums moderated only by staff members?

Are they willing to chat with you personally at all?

Look, you definitely don’t want to give your money to someone who isn’t willing to meet with you ahead of time to make sure you’re a good fit for each other.

Even if what you’re interested is an on-demand, self-study course. Or a group program.

Let’s say you’ve found your coach, but you don’t have the cash. What next?

Should you use a credit card to finance your education, training, or coaching?

The quick answer: no.

Don’t dig yourself into a deeper financial hole. Especially if making more than a monthly payment on that card will hurt you.

Cash flow in a business is your first priority.

You DO have other options. Here are just a few:

1. Build your cash reserves first. You can do this by either…

  • Taking a part-time job to supplement your earnings; or working a full-time job until you’ve got at least six months worth of savings — minimum — in the bank; and/or
  • Adding some low-priced done-for-you services ($200 or less). I’m not saying you should give away your time. But you can offer smaller bites of done-for-you work and get some traction. It’s a lot easier to sell than done-with-you. Start there if you have to, and build up some cash reserves and priceless experience with clients. And continue to offer the higher priced services. Then later, begin to transition into done-with-you and/or teaching the DIY folks.

2. Ask for a payment plan. If the person you want to work with doesn’t explicitly offer a payment plan option, ask. You might be surprised at the answer! I’ve had more than a few folks do this via a simple email request. And with just one exception, I was happy to accommodate those requests. What made the difference? Our relationship, the way they asked, and the proposal they made was fair to both of us.

3. Look for a scholarship option. Many outstanding coaches offer scholarships for their programs. If you don’t see one, ask. Again, it takes just one simple (and respectful) email to find out. (Yes, I offer scholarships for my Digital Dining Room program. Look for the link at the bottom of the sales page under the FAQs.)

4. Offer to do work in trade. It’s not often an option, but if you have a good relationship with the coach/mentor you’d like to work with, it doesn’t hurt to ask. (Hint: if you’ve got no prior relationship, this is a true long shot.)

These are just four suggestions. I bet you could think of four more. (And if you can, please share your ideas in a comment so the next reader has the benefit of your wisdom.)

The point is that you and I aren’t limited by traditional ways of doing business. We don’t need shortcuts. And we don’t need an army of affiliates either.

It’s hard work, for sure. And it means we need to be willing to give a hand up and pay it forward just as often as we’re on the receiving end of someone else’s generosity.

Let’s make a pact to be smart as we grow our businesses. And to focus on what matters most: relationships. With other humans.