I get it. When you start in business, the challenge is to get business. 2 ½ years ago I started Serena Dot Ryan. I started from scratch in the business sense. I had 25 years working experience as an employee, but I was a complete beginner as a business owner.

By nature, I want to help everyone. This has always been the case from the moment I started working at the age of 15. If I can help someone achieve a better life, it makes my life better. In most cases this approach is amazing, however as a business owner who wants/-needs to generate income from scratch, this natural trait to help others can be problematic.

Every business needs an income. If you’re service-based, your income comes from client services. As awareness of your business builds, inquiries come from all over. The biggest lesson to learn here is that not everyone who is asking is meant to be your client. If you take on everyone, you’re at a high risk of spreading yourself too thin and either stunting your growth or losing your business. I know this from experiencing it firsthand. Just because I can create websites, brochures, logos, social media management, email marketing, copywriting, digital education, digital strategy, photography, speaking and more, doesn’t mean I should do all these things. It’s not just about determining what you should be specialising in, it’s also about being priced accordingly.

This is where the power of  “no” comes in. If you’re like me, you never want to use this word. But, if you want to succeed in business, you have to get comfortable saying it. To be blunt, it was the reality of analysing my profit and loss that brought me to the conclusion that if I didn’t start saying no, I would lose my business. Ways I have learned to say it constructively and build my business are:



Serena Dot Ryan - Strategy ReviewGetting all potential clients to answer a set of questions. The answers help all clients think through what they really want and I have the opportunity to understand if we are the right fit. It takes 15-20 minutes for potential clients to answer these questions. The aim being for them to articulate what their business purpose is, and what they want to achieve by working with me. After all, if they can’t articulate this, then how am I able to help them? These questions become incredibly valuable. There are no right or wrong answers. However, when they complete them it helps to determine how I can help them and then when we do meet we have a more valuable meeting.



Serena Dot Ryan with Mari SmithI ask every client what their training budget is. The power of working with me is that one of my core values is education. Digital Marketing training is an asset and is an income generation tool. I want to set up all my clients to increase their revenue through understanding and optimisation of digital marketing tools.  Through education of digital marketing tools people have the ability and choice to do digital marketing themselves or hire others to help them do it.

The best possible way I can maximise their business through digital marketing education is to have a dedicated training budget and a dedicated advertising budget. As a general rule 7-10% of your projected revenue should be allocated to marketing. Separately I allocate $12,000 annually for my own training and development budget. This budget includes travel expenses and the cost of not working as I am training. So far this has included going to San Diego for Social Media Marketing World, Mentoring with Mari Smith, working with the Blitzmetrics team, attending TedxSydney and being a member of Toastmasters.


When I first started in business, I made the mistake of pricing myself based on what I thought people could afford. I didn’t fully consider the costs of being in business and the value of the asset I was giving away. I started with the approach of needing business and literally giving away my 20 years of marketing experience. 12 months ago when I was on the verge of my business folding, I reassessed my pricing. I did it with the following process.

  1. List my expenses. (E) I listed all my expenses, absolutely everything, I even included food, running shoes, childcare (without childcare I wouldn’t be in business!) and all the things I considered I needed for my business and life to be sustained. After all I started my business to have the life I wanted, it needed to be setup to achieve this. Once I had all these expenses listed, I then added the expense of a nice holiday for my family. This may seem trivial, but after everything is said and done, the reason I started my business was to have a quality of life raising my family.
  2. Calculated my Annual Working Hours. (H) I then looked at the year and taking into consideration seasonality worked out how many hours a year I could work. I then divided the amount of my expenses by the number of hours.
  3. Divided my total expenses by my Annual Working Hours. (P) This figure became my hourly rate.

The calculation is now:  E/H = P

My annual rate went from $80 per hour to $275 (inc. GST)



Serena Dot Ryan - Success Story Melissa WoodwardNow with the new pricing, the biggest issue with the pricing is not the price itself, but my confidence surrounding this. To gain confidence with my pricing, I spoke to clients who had results with me. To hear stories like, ‘Thanks to you I’m now found on Google.’ – Melissa Woodward, Evolution Health Services and, ‘Serena took our Facebook page to 1000s of likes and created a loyal following of newsletter recipients that our competitors would wish for.’ – James Spry, Macarthur Home Improvements.

These amazing reviews, gave me the confidence to stand by my new pricing.


Getting your digital marketing right is not about getting things implemented as fast as possible. It’s about getting the thinking and clarity around digital marketing right and then implementing. I cap the amount of clients I work with. All clients start with a POWER Hour or Express Online Audit to ensure we are the right fit.

With the right pricing this also helps to keep quality intact (rather than needing quantity). I set aside the equivalent of 2 full days a week to work on my business (it can sometimes be taken as 2 hours each day). This includes my own learning and training to build on my 20 years marketing experience. When I protect this time, it enables my business to stay focused and thrive. This way, I’m able to provide even more quality and support to my clients.



Tamlyn Creative Once I understand what a client’s needs are and how I can meet them, sometimes I see that we are not the right fit. For example: I’m not available, they don’t have the budget or they need something I don’t do such as graphic design. When this happens, I love being able to solve their problem by giving them a referral to someone who can help. In saying this, I make a point of only referring to people I have worked with and can verify their work. Tamlyn Creative is a great example. Tamlyn Creative have created WordPress websites for me, brochures and banner artwork. If I see them as a right fit for one of my clients based on size, budget and requirements, I will recommend them.

When I go through this process and realise that someone is the wrong fit, it’s not that they are bad, but rather if we work together we won’t necessarily bring out the best in each other and that would be detrimental to both parties.

Questions, Budget, Pricing, Availability and Referral all lead to process. When you have the right process in place, you can determine if you’re the right fit and set you and the potential client up for success.

Everyone has strengths and things we love doing. When we are utilising our strengths and doing things we love, we are naturally happier and more productive. I’m driven by the opportunity to help everyone and best way to do this is to start with focusing on my strengths and getting better at saying no. Is there anything you would add to this list?

What helps you say no?

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