Marketing Makes Me Ill
I admit it. I’m a hater, at least when it comes to marketing for myself. The idea of trying to sell my own services is the stuff of nightmares. But as a solopreneur, I’m learning you simply have to suck it up and find a way to do it.
That’s not to say we have to sound like those annoying car salesmen who used to frequent the limited TV channels when I was a kid. We just have to learn to put ourselves out there and give people an opportunity to ask us about the services or products we offer.
As a writer, the most common of these is pitching. Unfortunately, my brain has twisted that word into a rather unappetizing pretzel as palatable as the afore-mentioned care salesman. Though I can’t get completely away from pitching, I have been able to soften the word so it doesn’t stick in my craw.
Proposing vs. Pitching
Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to write proposals and that’s where I start to hit my stride. I spent far too many hours working with a proposal team in my last job, and have taken much of what I learned in those hours to heart. There are plenty of do’s and even more don’ts about proposal writing. My favorite of all of them is the “so what?” approach to evaluating a proposal.
The “so what?” approach essentially looks at all you’re offering the client or customer from their standpoint. If you can’t show the benefits of something you’re offering, or demonstrate how it will make their life easier, they’ll likely read it and wonder why you even included it. Many things fall into this category including lengthy descriptions of your assets and attributes. Believe me, a potential client doesn’t give a horse’s patoot how many years you’ve been in business or how many awards you’ve won. They want to know what you can do for them. They want to feel comfortable handing over not only their hard-earned cash, but tasks they want done on time, within budget, and above all, done right.
Testimonials from previous customers are great, but in this day and age, they’ve probably already looked at your website and seen the testimonials.
The Key is in the Customization
Remember all those resumes and cover letters you’ve sent out over the years? And remember when you finally learned that sending generic ones would most likely get you passed over no matter how good your qualifications were? A decent proposal (or pitch or query or whatever word you choose to use) is much the same. Sure, I use a template. I suspect most freelancers do. We don’t have time to reinvent the wheel every time we propose a job. But you have to take the time to learn something about the client and their company.
Sometimes, they’re not very forthcoming about their business, so you have to read between the lines. Sometimes, you’ll get a little bit of information from your direct questions, but the real gold comes from doing a little research, and from conversations and emails. In short, from less formal communications.
Lately, I’ve found that asking an innocent question in the context of the conversation will yield gems you weren’t expecting, but which will give you insight into what the client is really trying to accomplish with the service or product you offer. (From here on out, I’m just going to talk about services since that’s what I do. Product marketing is an entirely different ballgame anyway).
Understanding the Do’s and Don’ts
In the last couple of months I’ve learned a few useful things about potential clients and proposals which are making me look at the whole process from a much less revolted point of view.
- Rarely is the service you’re proposing your contact’s priority. They’ve been given the task of coordinating with potential candidates, but they have a lot of other responsibilities which are more important than what you’re proposing.
- Patience is rewarded. Because of the first point, you may experience long lags between your responses and theirs. Get used to it. Check in once a week or so, but don’t be a pest. You’ll often learn where things stand priority-wise if you ask for a little time to respond to their latest request.
- Always believe that no news is good news once you’re communicating with the potential client. I’ve sent out my share of queries which never even get opened, so I know what it feels like to send my best efforts into a black hole—every freelancer and solopreneur I know has files full of rejections by silence. So when you do get someone to respond, take it as a yes until such time as, god forbid, they tell you no.
- (This one should probably have gone first, but this list is not in order of importance) Spend time on the company website getting to know who you want to be working with. This is where strong investigative skills come in handy. But you can certainly take note of the obvious things like pages on their site (for me, one of the first things I look for is evidence of a blog. If it exists, I look at how active it is, and when they last posted). From there, look for the services or products they offer, the people they serve, and the problems they solve.
- Leave room in your proposal for services above and beyond what you’re proposing. Make sure you have a clause which covers you for “scope creep”. I see many freelance service providers complaining about clients who take advantage of them. Putting the “scope creep” clause in the proposal and contract tells the client exactly what they’re signing up for and when additional work will require a new or modified contract.
- Whether you’re dealing with the company President or someone 20 steps down the ladder, respect and consideration go a long way. Those gate keepers have the power to lock you out. Never lose sight of that. I’m reminded of the years I worked in Corporate America. Until computers rendered a lot of secretarial tasks obsolete, every director and upper-level manager had a secretary or admin and woe be to the person who got on that admin’s bad side. When all else fails, put yourself in their shoes. How would you want to be treated by someone whether you’re just recommending them or you’re the decision-maker?
Learning to Wait, Revise, and Rethink
Patience has never been my strong suit. I’ll be the first to admit it. But I’m gaining a newfound level of respect for a friend who is a commercial realtor. Many times, I’ve seen her comment on the latest iteration of a contract, often in double digits. As I propose and re-propose myself, I’m learning it’s just part of the process. People re-evaluate. When they see something in black and white, it makes them think about what they truly want. They’re not trying to be difficult. They simply want to be clear on how the problem they’re facing should be solved.
I’m also gaining an appreciation for marketing, and despite the many voices telling me it’s just a numbers game and I have to send out a million pitches, I believe we have to find what works for us. When I hear someone say they get sick to their stomach whenever they pitch, yet they spend a significant part of their day doing it, I have to ask Why would you want to do something that feels like a bad case of morning sickness? Be creative. Find something that works without the physical discomfort.
I’m one who gets physically ill just thinking about selling myself. But I’m also not willing to give up on myself, so I’m taking my own advice and looking for a better way. Part of that is talking to people who more about putting yourself out there to gain recognition and trust rather than playing the numbers game. I spent enough of my life playing with numbers. I’m learning I prefer words, hands down.
Gratitude Always Works
My gratitudes tonight are:
- I’m grateful there is more than one way to reach my goals.
- I’m grateful for the examples I see before me. Some, I’ll incorporate into my strategy, others I won’t. It doesn’t mean any of them are bad. Some are just a better fit for me.
- I’m grateful for dance nights, even when the DJ plays the same old boring dances instead of the many new ones we’ve learned. I get my exercise, my social engagement, and my hugs.
- I’m grateful for the upgrades I’ve made in my house in the last week or two. They’re neither expensive nor earth shaking. But they make me feel better, clearer, and more confident of my ability to attract the things I dream of.
- I’m grateful for abundance; love, joy, manifestations, inspiration, motivation, companionship, friendship, peace, harmony, philanthropy, and prosperity.
Love and Light
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