One of my coaching clients complained, “I’m really good at what I do. I shouldn’t have to market myself.” In fact, he is quite good at his profession, but the problem is that not enough prospective clients know about him. Like many professionals, he is reluctant to talk about his capabilities and accomplishments. “It feels like bragging,” he says. “Doesn’t it make me seem unprofessional?”
If thoughts like these often cross your mind, ask yourself this — who are the biggest names in your profession? In your line of work, who might be considered unquestioned experts, those with maximum credibility? Now, how did you get to know about those people’s work?
When I started my business, “everyone” told me I needed to know who my ideal client was. The pressure of figuring out the answer was intimidating; in those early days, my ideal client was anyone who had a pulse and would pay me. Needless to say, that turned out not to be a great answer.
Do you know who your ideal client is-that perfect person or entity you enjoy doing business with? Below are some questions to help you sort out who that is, and why it matters. Knowing the answer to these questions will help your business be more successful and help you sleep better at night, both desirable goals. Let’s dive in.
I heard a story on the This American Life podcast about a man waiting on a subway platform, and in the crowd was another man walking up to people, saying, “You’re In. You’re Out. You, you can stay. You — gotta go.” The story teller found himself secretly wanting to be picked to stay, which was odd since what the man was doing was completely arbitrary. I love this story because it reminds me of what we do to ourselves, how we consciously (or unconsciously) choose people in our lives. This applies to people in all areas of your life: friends and family, as well as clients and business associates. You can decide: You, you can stay. You, you gotta go.
“I think I’m really good at what I do,” declares technical writer June, “but I don’t ever seem to get a chance to show people.” June is experienced, highly-skilled, and has written dozens of procedure manuals and other how-to guides throughout her career. But she isn’t getting enough work to earn a living as a freelancer.
“I don’t like to talk about myself,” admits June. “It feels like bragging to say what a terrific writer I am. I don’t know how to express my capabilities to potential clients without sounding like some sort of conceited know-it-all.”
Like June, many professionals feel fearful or hesitant to speak out boldly about how good they are. But there are ways you can let people know what you’re capable of without ever having to say, “I’m hot stuff.”
Some marketing elements are foundational to your business. They function as the building blocks on which everything else is constructed. If you were building a house, this would be like pouring the concrete to make a solid foundation which you build everything else on top of.
These elements are things like having business cards, a good answer for what you do for a living, a website, a free giveaway, or a go-to speech. As a business owner, you’ll want to figure out what’s foundational for your business, and how to get those things done.
Figuring Out What’s Foundational to Your Marketing
What foundational items you choose is completely dependent on the type of business you have. In my case, most of the people I work with have a service based business, which lends itself to foundational items such as:
Jan is a graphic designer who was always struggling to find good clients. “I could find plenty of people who needed my services,” she recalls, “but they thought my rates were too high. I either ended up agreeing to work for less, or they found someone else. And then when I did get the job, they took forever to pay me.”
Like many graphic designers, Jan’s marketing emphasized her business identity work — creating a company’s logo, business cards, and other collateral, with matching design elements. Her primary audience was new businesses who were just getting started. But then Jan had a brainstorm.
“I realized that the clients I was marketing to were people who didn’t have enough money to pay me,” says Jan. “They were startups with tight budgets. And since they hadn’t been in business long, they didn’t place much value on working with an experienced, high-quality designer. They were just looking for the lowest price.”