Tuesday, January 7, 2014


When I first started advising self-employed professionals on sales and marketing 20-plus years ago, I quickly noticed a widespread phenomenon. Entrepreneurs had a considerable amount of anxiety and resistance about having live conversations with prospective clients. Instead of placing phone calls or making appointments, they much preferred running ads in newspapers and magazines, posting flyers, and generating letters, brochures, and postcards to mail.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. No matter what new technology arises to serve as a marketing platform, this regrettable entrepreneurial tendency persists. No matter how many times an entrepreneur hears that the best way to land clients is to get them to know, like, and trust you, it seems so much easier to simply broadcast marketing messages.

First faxes and email appeared, and very shortly thereafter, the first faxed and emailed ads and promos started to arrive. Professionals were thrilled to find a quicker, cheaper way to get their marketing message into prospects' hands. And secretly, many of them were also relieved to have a new excuse to avoid speaking directly with prospective clients.

Then came the Internet, and the birth of more marketing channels than our forerunners ever dreamed of. Entrepreneurs launched websites, set up autoresponders, and invested in classified ads, banner ads, pay-per-click ads, and more. The list of available marketing tactics for self-employed professionals grew longer, and so did the list of reasons not to spend time getting to know your prospects and building their trust.

Now the marketing universe includes social media, local search, mobile ads, text ads, and whatever new platforms were invented while I was writing this article. Ads and promos are everywhere. Yet many self-employed professionals are still struggling to get clients.

It seems that more advertising and promotion are clearly not the solution. So what is? Here are the five factors you need to avoid the advertising trap and market yourself successfully:
  1. Work from a strategy. Decide what your sales and marketing goals are, where you most need to focus, and what approaches it makes the most sense for you to use. Then make a plan to put those elements together that includes both a to-do list and due dates for each item. Remember that most marketing activities need to be performed repeatedly to have an impact.
  2. Lower your resistance. Don't allow your marketing strategy to be driven by your own anxieties or dislikes. Instead of defaulting to tactics that allow you to avoid confronting any resistance you have to selling, face your resistance head on. Name it. Own it. Work to overcome it. Meanwhile, choose marketing activities that build on your strengths and make use of your talents. Avoidance is not a productive strategy.
  3. Create connection. People buy a smartphone from an ad or a blender from a promo. But they hire professionals, consultants, and coaches because they know them, or they've been referred by someone else who does. Get to know your prospects (and referral sources) with phone calls, in-person appointments, live networking meetings, speaking or training events, or two-way online conversations via social media, blogs, or email.
  4. Provide value. Instead of focusing on delivering a marketing message, make it your aim to deliver value. Offer advice, information, inspiration, or helpful resources in the form of personal conversations and emails, articles, blogging, speaking, social media posts, or free classes, videos, or an ebook. You don't need to do all these things. Just choose one or two that seem right for your target audience and fit your personal style.
  5. Build relationships. Providing value as you connect over time creates relationships. Relationships aren't built on connection alone. But if you provide your contacts with value, they will naturally want more of you.
There is one more widely-touted way to gain clients without spending time on personal connections or building relationships. If you become credible and visible enough, you can land clients without ever getting to know them. When you are a notable expert or recognized guru, strangers will want to do business with you. To get there, you could author a popular blog, publish or speak in high-profile venues, create a viral video series, or become a social media star.

But if this is what you're banking on, recognize that this sort of visibility requires an ambitious, focused, and usually long-term strategy. You're not going to become Seth Godin or Brené Brown or George Takei overnight. Have you written 15 books like Godin, performed 10 years of scholarly research like Brown, or starred in a long-running entertainment series like Takei? Without that kind of head start, status as a visible expert can be hard to come by.

A much more reliable avenue to a steady stream of paying clients is to employ the five factors outlined above. Concentrate on creating connection, value, and relationships. Ads and promos won't do that for you. Put your time and money into marketing activities that will.
Copyright © 2014, C.J. Hayden

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