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I’ve talked with hundreds of business owners and colleagues over the years and they all pretty much have the same big question: “How can I attract clients online?”
Why it’s always better to get beyond our personal referral network to attract clients
We all want to find clients online because we know that’s the way to reach a larger audience and get beyond being at the mercy of our personal referral network and living with insecurity:
- “Where’s my next project going to come from?”
- “How much money am I going to make next year, next quarter… next month?”
- “Crap! I just lost my biggest client, now what?!”
Relying on our personal referral network can be like a game of telephone: we tell them what we do, then they tell someone else what we do, and they may not get it exaaactly right. And that means we wind up doing a whole bunch of stuff we’re not really psyched about.
(Looking at you, Bob, please stop telling people I “do computer stuff.”)
We know these types of problems result from not having enough client leads in our pipeline, and attracting new clients through the web means we can strengthen that pipeline, which allows us to:
- Have more control over what we charge;
- Relax and enjoy a proper disconnect or vacation knowing we’re booked out; and
- Build and grow our business in new directions. (Maybe develop those passive income streams finally?)
The holy grail of marketing is to figure out how to attract clients to us consistently
We spend tons of time Twittering and Intagramming and SEOing because we imagine that one day, we’ll wake up in the morning, log in, and say…
“Yay! It worked! There are tons of potential new clients in my inbox inquiring about my services!”
Seriously tho… how’s that working out?
If you’re like most people I speak with, you’re waking up to a quiet inbox more often than you’d like. 😩
(No, you’re definitely not alone, despite how it may seem on Facebook.)
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all marketing solution
It’s a complex problem that I try to tackle here on this blog and with my consulting clients, and I’ve yet to find a one-size-fits-all solution — despite the fact that marketers are constantly making the claim that all you need to do is buy their solution:
👉The key is SEO!
👉The most effective method for getting high-ticket leads is to use Webinars & Facebook ads!
👉I became a millionaire by using Pinterest, here’s how you can too!
👉You need to be on social media — the best way is Facebook groups! No, Twitter! No, Linkedin! No, Instagram!
Feeling overwhelmed yet? (This stuff makes me need ice cream and Netflix.)
And then there are people like me, who’ll tell you that all of those things (any of those things) can work, but it’s going to be a big old waste if you don’t have a strategy for your brand and a website that’s optimized to capture those opportunities and convert traffic into client leads.
For now, let’s put all of that aside, clear our minds and take a deep breath, and look at the problem from a different angle. First, a story…
The time I became “known for a thing” and life was easy
Back in 2002 when I first started my design business, I focused on getting local clients. I managed to get enough work to pay the bills and I didn’t need to set the alarm and commute to an office every day — that alone was pretty damn awesome. But a couple of years later I started blogging, and I learned how to customize my blog’s design, and things began to boom.
I started designing blogs for other bloggers, and there weren’t a ton of designers doing that at the time. I captured the attention of some “connectors” in online marketing when “blogging for business” was a new thing (yes, I’m ancient! 😂) and landed lots of gigs. I was known, back then, as a “blog designer.” There was plenty of work for those of us specializing in this niche. For like 5 minutes.
Clients came to ME and my inbox was always filled with opportunity. I was known for a thing.
I didn’t have to do any marketing, I just kicked my feet up, focused on doing good work, and people from all over the world found me. (Imagine! There wasn’t even Twitter or Facebook back then!)
I thought it was only going to grow and grow!
Then things changed. Being a blog designer or even a web designer doesn’t mean all that much anymore … everybody’s a web designer these days, that doesn’t differentiate me.
I started to do whatever. Anything that people came to me and asked me to do, really.
Then, I started to get the most dreaded of all questions, the one you never want to hear: “What is it that you do exactly?”
Creating a Services Menu Like You’re Denny’s Isn’t Doing You Any Favors
To fix the problem, I had made a huge mistake. What I thought I needed to do is communicate all of the things I’m capable of doing and selling, so I set my services page up like a big ol’ Denny’s menu…
I do this!
And I also do this!
And I do these other things!
And if you need [this thing] I also do that!
I cast a wide net and things got worse and worse. Rather than making it clearer “what I do,” I was making it less clear.
Rather than pare down my offerings, I just kept ADDING TO THEM. Bigger ones, smaller ones, random ones, what the hell was I thinking ones…
Ever watch Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares? I’ve watched every episode at least three times and it’s always the same: “How dumb are these restaurant owners with these 10-page menus of crap?! Haven’t they learned that all they need to do to fix their business is offer fewer high-quality options instead?!”
I was landing jobs I didn’t enjoy doing, but I needed the cash. Rather than tapping into my superpowers, I was doing a lot of low-level, low-satisfaction stuff just to keep my head above water.
I had positioned myself as an order-taker.
An order-taker is someone who does tasks people know they need help with, but they’re not seen as an expert. Nobody ever says, “there’s no substitute for this person, it has to be them!” about an order-taker.
And that’s fine when you’re just starting out (most of us start out there), but I’d been at this awhile. I had lots of experience and education and skills on-point but I was drowning in dissatisfaction.
I was Denny’s, not the neighborhood Bistro known for their caq au vin.
But I realized I’m not at all the only one who has made this mistake, I see it ALL. THE. TIME. If you’re relating to any of this and you want to change it, it starts here:
Stop Doing Everything for Just Anyone
If you’re like me, you’re good at a lot of different things. You’re capable of providing a smorgasbord of services to fulfill many needs for many types of customers. We think that’s a competitive advantage, but it’s not.
It’s a trap! A damn trap I tell you!
Trying to compete with everybody and anybody by saying, “I can do it all!” (you’ll just bring on subcontractors if you need to?) only makes us look like we do a whole bunch of things not very well. And that may actually be true, because we’re not putting in the time required to achieve mastery in any one area. They say that:
“People who are good at doing lots of things will never make as much money as people who are masters at one thing.”
Because we’re actually telling our dream clients, our best clients, our high-ticket clients:
“I’m not the best at anything in particular, I’ll basically do anything for cash. Hire me at your own risk.”
We repel our best clients, undercharge, and burn out.
Let’s put this to a test. Are you attracting clients who:
- Haggle with you on the price? Tell you that you’re too expensive?
- Expect you to do more work than what you agreed on so you either just do it to wrap things up and get rid of them or you have yet-another awkward “scope creep” conversation?
- Don’t respect your time, and email you on the weekends with “URGENT!” requests?
- Randomly leave you to go work with your competitor and you don’t really understand why they had no loyalty to you because you bent over backward to please them and you did great work?
If so, I can tell you why that’s happening:
- You’ve positioned yourself as someone who “does all this stuff” and there’s no particular value that’s understood in the mind of your customer;
- You allowed them to dictate the way things went when the truth of the matter is — they weren’t qualified to do that. They’re not experts;
- You’re selling your services like a commodity that anybody else can provide. You’re interchangeable with every one of your competitors, it makes no difference to them who are taking the order or doing the gig.
I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t matter if you give great service or you’re a very nice person, there still no perceived difference in value. In the mind of your customer — even your best customer — you’re not seen as the only choice they should consider.
Be An Expert Rather Than An Order-Taker
Becoming known for a thing means moving past being an order-taker and developing an area of mastery. You become an expert, a specialist, a go-to person for a specific thing.
An Expert Doesn’t Sell Their Time
An expert sells results and gets paid based on the value of those results. It’s not about the services, it’s about the solutions.
An Expert Understands Their Customer’s Underlying Problem
When people come to you for “that stuff you sell,” what is it that they’re really after? What’s the underlying problem they need to be solved? What’s the game-changing outcome?
An expert sells that outcome.
Being An Expert Makes Marketing Easier
By focusing on becoming known for a thing, you’ll be able to spend less time “out there” doing random things on social media chasing after all kinds of potential clients who all want completely different things.
You’ll be able to get more focused and strategic about your marketing efforts because you know exactly who your customer is and the problem you solve, and people will come to you because you’re the one that solves that problem better than anyone else.
Are you picking up what I’m throwing down?
It’s not about scrambling to reach more people all the time, it’s about creating something that will get people coming to you.
Decide What Your One Thing Is
If you reverse engineer how successful entrepreneurs do it, they become masters of one thing.
They go miles-deep in one area and become known for that thing.
When this happens, competition falls away. “You’re the one that _______.”
Then amazing things happen:
- People are more likely to remember you as the person who solves a specific business problem.
- When they have that specific business problem, they’ll come to you. Because you’re a specialist, not a generalist.
- When they have a friend who has that specific business problem, they’ll remember you and refer them to you.
- Google is more likely to discover you because you’re the expert in this space.
- You naturally become the go-to authority.
- You can turn down “all that other stuff” you used to do for cash and be happier in your work.
- Figuring out which marketing tactics will work best for you will become more evident: “It’s so obvious I need to be doing webinars because this is a really high-ticket offering;” or “I’m pretty sure people are going to be looking for this in Google search, I should focus on S.E.O.,” or “I’m going to need to build a community so people who have this problem know I’m the one to turn to, I should set up a Facebook group!”
Create A Value-Based, Signature Service
Creating a value-based, signature service means you’re in control. It’s your process, clients will come to you and they’ll follow it because it’s the outcome they’re after.
(Reminder: you’re not selling your time, you’re selling a result.)
So what do you need to do in order to deliver that result? What service(s) do you need to create?
How many times have you been an order-taker and thought, “If only they had the budget to let me do it my way, then I could really do something for them!”
Well what is that thing? What can you do? What does the process look like? How long does it take? How much does it cost?
Are you offering that on your services page? Have you made that your main thing?
Create a Business You Love
This matters too. You’re skilled and talented and hard-working, why shouldn’t you be fulfilled by your work? How much longer can you sustain “just doing things” in exchange for cash?
One of the things I often ask people is, “What is it you REALLY want to be doing? What are you great at? What are you great at that people will pay great money for?”
And when they tell me (they answer easily because they’ve dreamed about it!) … it isn’t even on their list of services. 😐
They are “doing all this stuff”, but they completely forget to design a business around the types of services that will make them feel truly fulfilled and make them profitable.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
And one more thing, because if you’ve read this far you’re in a boat I’m very familiar with…
If you’re attracting customers who insist they know more than you, “just shut up and take my order already…” is this really the customer you want? Is that how you want your future-business to be? Because I can promise you, THIS IS YOUR REFERRAL NETWORK and it is your future.
Doing work for clients like that means you’re educating them about how to refer you to others — they’ll tell all their friends who will come to you with similar expectations. You’re the one that ____. (And not in a good way.)
We all gotta do what we gotta do, but you can only start attracting the right people to you and doing the work you’re meant to be doing when you stop trying to do everything for just any-old-body.
So… what is the thing you can become known for so your dream clients will more naturally be drawn to you? Is there anything stopping you from creating a signature service?
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.