It’s the time of year when we self-employed professionals often begin to look back at what we’ve accomplished in our business over the last twelve months, and judge our progress and results against what we intended back in January. What frequently results from a process like this is a catalog of everything you haven’t done, or have done wrong. But I believe it’s even more important to consider what you’ve done right this year.

Strong fist

My new client “Rhoda” had looked over her past year’s results and was feeling discouraged when we had our first coaching session. She’d hoped to get 10 new graphic design clients this year. Considering the size of the projects clients normally gave her, and the work she could expect from her regular clients, that was all the business she needed to have a great year.

But Rhoda had landed only five new clients all year. She was frustrated and mad at herself for not doing better.

When I asked what she’d been doing to get clients, Rhoda explained that she’d been trying to use social media: a personal profile on LinkedIn, a page for her business on Facebook, and a Twitter account.

“I really don’t like being online very much,” Rhoda confided. “It was a chore for me to keep those accounts updated, and I’d often forget to post, or just post any old thing so I could check it off my to-do list.”

“I know social media is the way to get clients these days,” Rhoda continued. “At least that’s what everyone says. Can you help me do a better job at it?”

“Actually,” I replied, “I’ve got a different suggestion. How about if you stop trying to use a marketing approach you’re not good at, and makes you miserable, and instead use one you enjoy and can do well?”

Here’s what Rhoda needed to consider. Regardless of what “everyone says,” there are no one-size-fits-all marketing strategies. What works well for one self-employed professional does not necessarily work for another entrepreneur whose talents, skills, preferences, and situation are different.

When you try to do a thing that isn’t in your wheelhouse, it becomes much harder. It takes longer than it should, and you don’t have a good time while doing it. You begin to dread it. You may avoid doing it entirely, delay doing it so long that it loses its impact, or do a quick and sloppy version of it just to get it done.

But the reverse is true of tasks that make use of your strengths. You enjoy working on them, so you eagerly plunge in. You put in the effort to do them well, and you’re much more likely to complete them on time. This is true even when the tasks require you to learn new skills. When you’re having a good time, learning something new becomes enjoyable rather than a chore.

“Rhoda,” I asked. “How did you get those five new clients you mentioned?”

“Well, two were referred by a photographer colleague, one was someone I took a class with a couple of years ago, another was a member of a networking group I go to sometimes, and the fifth was a friend of a former co-worker I had lunch with.”

“It sounds to me,” I said, “like your strengths in marketing are in the area of networking and referral-building. How about if we create a marketing plan for you focused on that?”

So that’s what we did. My suggestion to Rhoda was that she begin by intentionally building referral relationships with people who shared her target market, like her photographer colleague. In addition to that, I recommended that she organize all of her existing contacts into a contact management system, and make a plan to get back in touch – over time – with all the people she already knew.

Rhoda followed these suggestions, and several months later, she reported to me that not only did she now have all the clients she could handle, but she was enjoying her business again. “I was almost ready to give up and look for a job,” she told me. “What a mistake that would have been!”

Rhoda had learned a vital lesson about marketing. Instead of asking, “what’s the best way to get clients,” you need to ask, “what’s the best way for me to get clients?” You’ll find the answer by relying on your strengths.

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