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.”

Marketing the right stuff

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.

How can you find clients who will pay what you’re worth?

“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.”

Jan turned her marketing upside down. Instead of focusing on logos and business identity, she began to feature annual reports and customer/employee communications as her primary offering. “My business changed almost overnight,” Jan relates. “Clients who need communications pieces like these are established companies, and have substantial budgets. They understand the need for quality work. Plus, they give me repeat business once they see what I can do.”

What Jan discovered was the importance of having the “right stuff” in marketing. The right stuff is the stuff that your ideal clients want to have. It’s also the stuff that allows you to distinguish yourself from the competition.

What can you offer that makes you stand out?

Alice is a financial planner who had always marketed retirement planning as her principal service. “It’s the largest possible market,” Alice notes, “and it’s what I was taught to lead with.” But the problem was that every other financial planner in her area was marketing exactly the same thing. Every potential client Alice talked to was either already working with someone else, or they ended up choosing another financial planner that a friend or colleague had recommended.

How could Alice stand out in such a crowded marketplace? “I decided I needed to offer something unique,” explains Alice. “I started telling people I specialized in socially responsible investing.”

Alice found that although this was a smaller market than the audience for traditional retirement planning, she could really claim it as her own. None of the other financial planners in her area had this specialty. The nature of her work didn’t change that much — she was still helping clients with retirement plans. What changed was that now she had a unique market position that got people’s attention and made them remember her. Alice’s business soared.

In Alice’s case, she didn’t make a single change in how she was marketing herself, or where. She attended the same networking events, gave talks to the same groups, and had lunch or coffee with the same potential referral sources as she always had. What changed was what she was marketing. By marketing the right stuff, she carved out a unique position for herself in the marketplace.

How can you earn more from fewer clients?

Jay, an IT consultant, was offering on-call technical support to companies too small to have their own in-house IT staff. “It seemed like a good idea when I began,” remembers Jay. “These companies had a compelling need for me, and were willing to pay a decent hourly rate.”

While Jay was able to find clients fairly easily, his problem was that the jobs were too small. “I’d spend all this time and money on developing a new client relationship,” Jay points out, “and then they would hire me for only an hour or two every few months. My marketing was working just fine, but it wasn’t paying off.”

Jay decided to change the nature of his business from on-call tech support to local area network installation and maintenance. He would still offer on-call support, but only to those customers whose network he had installed, who were under a maintenance agreement.

The results were dramatic. “Now each new customer pays me thousands instead of a couple of hundred,” declares Jay. “Instead of dozens of tiny customers, all with emergencies, I have only a few larger ones, and my schedule is more predictable. And the bonus is that it costs less time and money to market my business, because I don’t need as many clients.”

What’s the “right stuff” for your business?

What’s your biggest marketing challenge? Are you struggling to find clients who will pay your fees, like Jan? Or having trouble standing out from the competition, like Alice? Or working too hard to land small clients, like Jay?

Maybe it’s time to re-examine not how you are marketing, but what. Marketing the right stuff can allow you to find better clients with less effort. What’s the stuff that your ideal clients really want to have?

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