I recently wrote a Coach’s Corner column for AIIP about how to manage difficult clients and, as I was writing it, I realized that I have had very few difficult clients over the last 25+ years in business. What’s my secret? I’m certainly not perfect, but here are the approaches that have helped me attract and keep so many clients I respect, admire and look forward to working with.
The solopreneurs I coach and mentor, especially those in their first year of business, often tell me how hard it is to figure out how to measure success, how to best spend their time, and how to turn interest into client engagements. While each business is different, a few pieces of advice apply in almost any B2B solopreneur.
First, make sure you know what your prospective clients need, value and will pay you well for. If you haven’t conducted at least a half dozen informational conversations, in which you were able to learn what your market needs and how your prospective clients talk about that need, then you need to invest the time and energy into these essential conversations. See my blog post Making Yourself Irreplaceable for lots more resources on how to conduct insightful informational conversations.
One of the most common traps I see new infopreneurs fall into – and I’ve done this myself, too! – is equating a prospect with an actual, paying client. We meet someone at a networking event or have a phone call with someone we met through social media. The person sounds interested in what we do, accepts our business card, and maybe even says “Yeah, we could have used someone like you that one time.” They may attend a webinar we give or download a white paper we wrote. We end the encounter confident that the person will be calling us shortly with an assignment, but then we never hear from them again.
In my experience, failure to convert interest into engagement is often caused by some combination of the following factors.
I’ve seen a lot of myths about consulting, all of them as hoary and false as the idea that if you build a better mousetrap, people will beat a path to your door. Following are the infopreneur myths I’ve found to be most prevalent… and wrong.
#1. Consulting is what people do when they’re between jobs
In my experience, you can’t both start a business and look for a job; either you are focused on finding what your clients need most and how you can meet those needs, or you’re focused on finding who will hire you for your skills.
#2. The services I provided as an employee will be valued by consulting clients
It’s always more effective for a solopreneur to attract clients rather than chase after them. Cold calls and cold emails are usually unwanted, most likely not immediately relevant to the recipient, and often filtered as spam. Building a reputation as a respected expert in your field, on the other hand, can be an efficient way to attract clients who need, value and will pay you for your services. Following are seven traits that successful thought leaders develop.
Be curious. Read news sources that cover trends in your industry and reflect on what impacts new developments will have. Attend conferences; the conversations and serendipitous meetings enhance your credibility and expand your horizons.
As I was driving the other day, I passed a panel truck for Panorama, a local company that handles landscaping and maintenance services. Their tagline?
Enjoy life! We’ll manage the details
Like my favorite tagline from The Cleaning Fairies, We give you your weekends back, and Old Dominion Freight Line’s Helping the world keep promises, it focuses on why their clients would use them, not what they do or how they do it. Landscaping, housecleaning and trucking are three service professions that can be seen as commodities, just as many solopreneurs can feel like they are competing with the cheapest alternative on the web. By focusing on their commitment to their customers’ outcomes, they’re able to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
Recently, I was talking with Kim Dority, a friend and colleague and one of the smartest people I know, and she was telling me about how she had recently pivoted the focus of her business. First, she developed a compelling write-up of the services she could provide to graduate schools to better attract, support and retain qualified students. She then sent this out in an introductory letter to a few of her top prospects to see how it was received. She followed up with conversations, either in person at a conference they were attending or on the phone, to discuss what she could do for each of those prospects. It turned out that no one wanted to buy any of the services she had so carefully crafted. Instead, they all asked for something specific to their needs – to run their internship program, or to develop a series of workshops for alumni. She could not have predicted the outcome of any of these conversations, but each one resulted in some type of consulting engagement.
I recently overhead a consultant talking about the need to stay in touch with contacts, even if they never turn into clients. I completely agree. But then I winced when I heard how she described her thought process: “I know I’ll never make any money off her, but…”
Words matter. The words you say out loud matter and, perhaps even more importantly, so do the words you say to yourself. And what you say in your head often winds up being reflected in how you act and the words you do choose to speak. When we let ourselves think in crass terms, even in jest, we reinforce the worst of being in business – seeing everyone as a mark, as nothing more than how much we can make off them.
What’s one of the first things you do when you launch a business? Get a domain name and set up a web site on a platform like WordPress. You pick one of the popular templates, write up descriptions of your services, grab a few stock photos and you’re good to go. No-brainer, right?
I used to advise new solopreneurs to invest in a professionally-designed logo – something that reflects well on their business and conveys a certain permanence. And while I have one that I use for invoices and proposals on letterhead, I haven’t used a logo on a business card for years.