We self-employed professionals spend a great deal of our marketing effort on searching for the right words. We read books, take classes, and hire consultants to help us write copy for our marketing materials. Composing web pages, writing sales emails, and drafting ad copy consumes hours or days of precious marketing time.

Action plan

It appears, though, that many professionals have mistaken all this wordsmithing for productive action.

Don’t get me wrong; the words you use to market yourself are important and deserve your attention. But crafting the message, and effectively delivering the message, are not at all the same thing. Here are some situations I’ve encountered with my clients and students that illustrate this all-too-common marketing blunder.

“I spent $2,000 on an ad campaign and I haven’t gotten a single client from it.”

If all a professional had to do in order to succeed at marketing was to write the perfect ad, I suspect many more folks would have thriving businesses. But when selling your own professional services, it rarely works that way. An online or print ad can be sometimes be a useful device for getting the attention of prospective clients. Its true function, though, must be to open the door to a sales conversation, not to close a sale all by itself.

Ads rarely turn into instant clients. Before you consider running an ad campaign, you should know exactly what you want it to do. Are you offering ad viewers something free for which they will provide their email address? Have you designed a special landing page on your site for your campaign? Your ad needs to ease visitors into a multi-stage sales funnel so you can follow up with them. Just pointing an ad viewer to the home page of your website — or to a page that asks them to immediately spend a substantial sum — is unlikely to pay off for you.

“I can’t follow up on these leads because I don’t have a good sales email.”

The quest for the perfect sales email seems to prevent far too many professionals from reaching out to prospective clients. It appears that many people are convinced that there is such a thing as the perfect sales email — you know, the one that results in instant replies from eager clients as soon as they receive it? Searching for this Holy Grail of marketing, they delay and delay until all their leads grow stale.

Instead of focusing so much on the content of your sales emails, put your emphasis on repeat contacts using multiple channels over time. Place a call, then send an email, call again, then send another email. You could make contact with a prospect four times over a two-week span in less time than it takes you to write and rewrite one “perfect” email. A series of action steps like this will have much more likelihood of resulting in a sales conversation than almost any email you could write.

“I can’t market; my website isn’t up-to-date.”

The idea of marketing one’s business on the web didn’t even exist before the mid-1990’s. And somehow, we managed to market ourselves without it. Now it seems that having your whole business spelled out in detail on your website has become a prerequisite for getting clients. Actually, the universe of marketing professional services hasn’t changed as much as many folks think.

For the vast majority of self-employed professionals, their first few clients come as a result of pre-existing personal connections. These clients are people they already know, or the friends and colleagues of people they know. There’s no need for a sophisticated web presence to land clients like these.

If you’re newly in business, you’ll compose much better copy for your website after you have the opportunity to have a few real sales conversations. You’ll know much more then about what works to get across your message to potential clients. If prospective clients need more information about you, send an email or put it on paper. Just because you can share detailed information about your business on the web doesn’t mean you have to.

For the established professional, you already know that the best clients typically result from referrals and networking. A detailed, up-to-date website can be useful in those activities, but it doesn’t have to be the linchpin. Focus on delivering your marketing message to referral partners and networking contacts in other ways — phone calls, email, coffee meetings, etc.

Don’t wait to get it right before you get going.

Ad campaigns, sales emails, and websites can all be effective marketing tools. Writing powerful and informative marketing copy is a useful skill to learn or hire out to a professional. But don’t put your marketing on hold because you haven’t yet found the perfect words to use. In marketing your services, actions really do speak louder than words.

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