I’m often asked by people who are just starting their business whether they need to specialize and how they can differentiate themselves. I recently had a great opportunity to see from the buyer’s point of view what really matters when buying a professional service.
I often give presentations and workshops on using social media for both research and marketing, and I am still surprised by how many people look at Facebook with mild disdain. “I have better things to do than post selfies and videos of my dog,” they sniff. “And how could I possibly find value from other people’s selfies and dog videos?”
One of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs is getting the client to say “I do.” Many of us don’t like being turned down, so we wind up not asking a question that runs the risk of eliciting a negative answer. However, you could be the world’s best marketer, a world-class leader at what you do, and skilled at eliciting your clients’ underlying needs, but if you can’t get the client to sign on the dotted line and approve your proposal, you aren’t going to get paid for all those wonderful skills.
I was thinking recently about what kinds of marketing really work for entrepreneurs who own professional-service businesses. Even when we deliver something tangible – a new web site, or a consulting report – we are still selling our expertise and insight. And we generally are not cheap; most one-person businesses charge $100 or more an hour, so our clients usually aren’t impulse shoppers. (Although I do have an image in my head of buying a half hour of time on the QVC network, in between “Beauty By Tova” and Diamonique jewelry, where I can encourage people to buy my consulting services now and SAVE!)
I just read a nice summary of what it takes to start a service-based business, over at The $100 MBA. Omar Zenhom’s Ultimate Guide to Starting a Service Based Business walks you through the mental shifts you need to make in order to turn yourself into a successful business. (Yeah, he thinks of them as action steps, but each step requires an attitude, a mind-set, as much as an understanding of what needs to be done.)
This post covers issues like knowing where your value lies and believing that you offer value, re-thinking your web site, setting rates (gulp), and dealing effectively with clients.
Over the past 18 years, I have had six books published by three different publishers. When I decided that I had another book inside me, I considered pitching it to my usual publishing contacts. After serious thought, I decided to self-publish The Reluctant Entrepreneur: Making a Living Doing What You Love through Amazon.com’s print and e-book services. While it usually takes a publisher nine months or a year from receipt of a manuscript to shipment of a book, my turnaround time was just four months—a significant factor with a book that covers social media and other rapidly changing fields.
If you have been in business for more than a couple of weeks, you have probably been asked by someone to donate your time and services for their organization. And especially if your business is still in its early stages, it can be tempting to say yes. “It’s a great way to market myself”, you tell yourself. “They’ll see how great my work is, and then they will pay me.”
Adam Davidson (NPR Planet Money co-host) mused about innovation in a piece in the Nov. 16th issue of the New York Times, Welcome to the Failure Age. What I found most intriguing were his thoughts about the impact of information technology on usually risk-averse professions such as lawyers and accountants. As they see much of their low-value, routine work disappear to Nolo and Quicken respectively, these professions are finding new ways to surface the unique value they provide, using tools that once threatened their business. As Donaldson put it:
I was chatting with a colleague the other day, who was concerned that she had not heard from a client in a while and she was starting to imagine all the worst possible outcomes. “The client hates me. He’s found someone else with lower rates. I made a horrible mistake and he hasn’t told me.” Blah blah blah… I know; we have all been down that road.
Today’s Wall Street Journal had a thought-provoking article about “How Steve Ballmer Became a Rookie Basketball Mogul” in which we learn that even CEOs get nervous when they are preparing to meet NBA superstar players for dinner. (And they binge-watch to relieve stress just like the rest of us.)