Offer Something of Value
One does not become a successful professional or business owner simply by being charming and dressing the part. You must provide something of value that is not ubiquitous within the everyday world. Most successful professionals leverage their unique skills and expertise to provide something of use to others. These skills were not built overnight; they typically represent tens of thousands of hours of practice and experience.
Make That Value Easy to Find
Your products, services, or wisdom won't do anyone much good if it cannot be found. In addition to leveraging sound marketing strategies, make sure that your content is optimized to be found via search engines. For more guidance, visit our introductory guide to SEO.
Offer Pain Pills, not Vitamins
Beyond offering something of value as a professional and entrepreneur, you must provide something that meets a well-known demand. One of the best tips an entrepreneur has shared with us is that one must provide pain pills, not vitamins. People can understand vitamins are good for them; they can understand why it might be a good idea to take them and they might occasionally buy some, but they don't need them. Pain pills, on the other hand, meet a very clear and present demand. One is constantly aware of one's pain, and one is far more likely to be interested in resolving it with a pill.
If your solutions are nice to have, you will have far less job security or financial stability than if your business, products, or services satisfy a very clear need.
Meet an Unmet Need
Even if you have immense talent and are able to leverage it to resolve a well-known, widespread problem, you may not succeed if there are plenty of competitors out there who already solving that problem, and solving it well. If you cannot address an issue that other professionals already address more effectively and cheaply (and in some cases, even if you can), you will be unlikely to achieve significant success.
Try to orient the value you provide around a need people have that is not being met very well. Let us say, for example, that more and more women are starting to buy tool-box-style makeup cases... but nobody really provides them. Instead, women are going to hardware supply stores, buying well-built tool boxes, and painting them to look like sleek and attractive makeup cases. In this case, you can meet an unmet need by producing and selling tool box-grade makeup cases available in a variety of chic and feminine styles.
You might also discover unmet needs by looking for tasks and responsibilities that other professionals or companies avoid or dislike handling. If, for example, you find that many PR agencies love crafting robust messages and managing clients, but hate networking with journalists and developing the relationships that are crucial for their success, you might be able to build a profession around acting as a PR agency-journalist liaison.
Choose a Good Brand Name
Your company's name (or the name of a blog or twitter handle you select as a professional) is something that deserves significant time and consideration. It is an investment that will have a long-lasting impact on your company.
Alexandra Watkins, founder and owner of the brand consultancy Eat My Words, recommends subjecting any brand name you develop to the SCRATCH & SMILE test:
Alexandra also advises against obsessing over available domain names; she does not consider exact domain matches to be an essential element of a name's viability. What is more important is that the name is fun, accessible, and memorable.
Be Succinct and Compelling
We live in an age of very short attention spans. Do not encourage colleagues and clients to ignore you through your use of:
- Misleading or convoluted titles or email headers
- Verbose emails
- Walls of text in blog posts and online articles
Keep sentences short and straightforward. Speak in sound bites. Give email headings, posts, and articles clear, descriptive, and compelling titles. Do not expect people to read more than three (short) paragraphs. When writing messages, keep in mind that their recipients will likely be reading them:
- While glancing at smartphones on the way to work
- While talking with a friend
- While watching TV
- While working on three other tasks
Even when you do have someone's undivided attention, do not expect it to last. Don't miss your chance to make an impact before people lose interest.
Understand Your Target Market or Target Audience
A surprising number of professionals and business owners pay little attention to the very customers and clients who pay their bills.
You must know:
- What your target market needs
- Where your target market hangs out (online and offline)
- Where your target market is going to look when seeking products and services you provide
- Where your target market is likely to find you by chance
- How your target market will want to interact with you
Having an understanding of your ideal clients, customers, or target audience will help you broaden your base and provide others with more enjoyable experiences. This will ultimately reduce your churn rate and boost word-of-mouth marketing for your business or personal brand.
Leverage In-Person Interaction in Market Research
In-person interaction with clients, customers, and colleagues can give you a much better understanding of what they need, want, and expect from you. Physical world interaction also plays a crucial role in building long-term relationships and widening your client base through personal referrals (which tend to be the most important type of referral for a preponderance of businesses).
To spend more time with your clients, customers, and target audience:
- Hang out where they hang out (e.g. popular cafes, industry events, meetings, tradeshows, etc.)
- Schedule one-on-one meetings with clients and colleagues on a regular basis
- Host get-togethers at conveniently-located bars and restaurants
- Spend time with customers as they use your products (e.g. by inviting them in for user testing sessions or product demos, visiting their offices, etc.)
- Garner feedback from customers (e.g. by inviting influential customers to your office and hosting occasional meetups)
- Invite clients out for coffee or lunch to get to know them better
- Get to know customers by striking up a conversation whenever selling them a product in person
Establish Strong Relationships with High Margin, Valuable Clients
A small number of clients, customers, and colleagues will typically yield the vast majority of your income, new client referrals, and word-of-mouth promotion. Make sure to establish long-lasting bonds with these people and organizations, and do what you can to turn new clients into your number one fans.
- Make it clear that you are invested in a client, customer, or colleague for the long haul
- Show clients, colleagues, and customers that you care about their opinions, insights, and suggestions
- Under promise and over deliver
Though all clients are important, certain clients are less worth your time- in fact, some low-margin clients end up being particularly demanding and more of a liability than a source of income. It would not be a bad idea to tactfully let them go (should the opportunity ever arise).
Run Competitive Research
Having a sound understanding of your competition will help you reduce risk and provide more value to your clients, colleagues, and customers. Whether your competitors are other people working within your department, other business offering a similar solution, or a myriad of sources used to piece together a single packaged solution you provide, you must understand:
- What they presently offer that you do not
- What you offer that they do not
- The difference between your physical, intangible (e.g. branding, reputation, experience), and financial resources
- Why exactly they would be better to work with / buy from than you
Knowing these things, you must do everything you can to ensure that you offer more value than your competitors and leverage the resources you have to work with to your greatest advantage.
Utilize Content Marketing - Intelligently
Content marketing involves the creation of content with the intention of drawing in more customers. Do not misinterpret this concept as "write blog posts and people will want to buy your stuff."
Provide Unique Value with Your Content
While content marketing (be it the form of a company blog, newsletters, articles contributed to various relevant publications, YouTube videos, tweets, etc.) can be a huge source of potential clients and buyers, it will only do you good if it offers unique value.
Not every company or professional can offer unique value in the form of, say, blog posts. For example, a trash collecting company is not going to garner much attention or appreciation from a series of blog posts about their top-of-the-line trash trucks and friendly, devoted drivers.
Should you now know how to provide unique value through content playing up your business or professional value, try to think of online resources that would be useful to you. These might include:
- Collected notes that you, personally, would find useful as a reference point
- Natural byproducts of your work (e.g. industry notes, meeting notes, analyses, etc.)
- A series of presentations that your clients and colleagues frequently ask you to share with them
- Lessons you have learned about your industry or job that you do not want to forget
- Case studies that help you think through important trends and leading companies/personalities within your industry
- Insider information that is not well-documented online (e.g. trustworthy medical information, behind-the-scenes insights on hair and makeup prep for fashion runway shows, etc.)
Consider When, Why, Where, and How Customers and Clients would Want to Discover Your Content
Take into account when, whether, and why your customers would want to hear from you and what information they might independently seek that is related to your business. While few people would want to receive regular emails from a trash collection company, or want to see regular tweets or Facebook posts form them announcing special trash pickup deals, they might be interested in (or even share) some cool images of trash collected by the company that has been upcycled into cool furniture, gadgets, and pieces of art.
This type of content might be received more magnanimously should others find it independently on a company's website when doing pre-purchase research. People hear from enough businesses as it is- should a trash collection company choose to throw its updates at customers through emails, which are likely to be quickly blocked or marked as spam, few people would see anything at all, and the company would likely raise more ire than admiration.
Share Content that Drives Sales
It is not enough to create content online for marketing purposes that drives views. Content you publish should reinforce your value as a professional or business and encourage others to work with you, purchase your products or services, or follow your work.
A trash hauling company might gain many viewers by maintaining a blog showcasing embarrassing or weird things people have thrown away, however this content is not likely to entice more people into using its services. How comfortable would you be giving your trash to someone who very publicly photographs and mocks it in front of a large online audience?
Be Persistent and Consistent
Should you determine that your clients, target audience, or customers would like to hear from you through a blog, tweets, a series of YouTube videos, or podcasts, keep in mind that you must be willing and able to provide content on a regular and consistent basis.
If your goal is to build up a significant number of subscribers, you will be unlikely to do so if you do not manage to publish regularly (once or twice every week) and at consistent intervals (e.g. always on Tuesday morning). Having a series of buffer posts stowed away in case of emergency will help you avoid gaps and late postings.
In addition to being consistent with content publication, you must be consistent in the manner in which you treat others via social media and on your own digital properties. Establish clear policies for comments and posts that will and will not be tolerated within pages, groups, and sites you manage. For more information, see our guide to comment moderation.
Engage in Cross Promotion; Publish in Multiple Formats
Information is not meant to be published and shared online in a vacuum. The more you collaborate and engage with other influential businesses and personalities online, the better.
- Invite others to publish (interesting, relevant) guest posts on your blog
- Invite others to make guest appearances in videos you create
- Interview other business owners or important professionals in blog posts and comments
- Publish guest posts on other blogs and companies' sites
- Make appearances on popular podcasts
- Contribute articles to popular digital publications and news outlets
When pitching to the media, keep your emails short. Limit them to a compelling title, a powerful, three sentence pitch, and a link to an online portfolio featuring clippings of your work.
You also stand to gain from making your content available in a wide variety of formats, such as:
- Blog posts
- Tweets and Facebook posts
Appearances across a broad range of platforms and formats will introduce your business or career to people who would otherwise never know you existed.
Give Your Content a Creative Commons License
Creative Commons licenses can be an excellent vehicle for promotion as they enable others to use your content so long as they attribute you and link back to your original image.
Giving photos you share online Creative Commons licenses:
- Increases the odds they will be shared elsewhere
- Increases the odds that someone will be exposed to your name
- Boosts the number of backlinks to your online properties (which helps with SEO)
- Increases the odds that others will click through to, and find, your online properties
Be sure to upload Creative Commons images to sites like Flickr (and properly apply your licenses using their tools). Flickr is one of the top sites people visit when seeking Creative Commons-licensed images to use, and its images are prominently featured in a number of popular Creative Commons image search tools.
People are more likely to establish connections with other people, not brands. Stand behind your work. Make it clear that you are more than a business or professional automaton.
Tactics that reinforce your authenticity include:
- Incorporating photos of yourself into your work
- Sharing interesting photos from your personal life on social media platforms that have a personal focus (e.g. Facebook)
- Leverage personal events in your life as analogies for insightful analysis related to your business or profession
- Share information about your background, likes, and dislikes (in a tasteful, succinct manner)
- Publish under your own name rather than the name of your company or employer
Bundle Live Consulting Services with Supplementary Materials
Whether you produce a lot of valuable content via content marketing or not, it may be worthwhile to have a set of materials on hand that you can offer to those who utilize your services.
For example, if you help clients with social media, you can provide them with more value, save time, and spare yourself the frustration of having to answer the same question over and over by sharing with them a basic guide to social media, or series of crash courses to various online platforms, before you get started with live sessions.
Many professionals also add value to their services (and boost their earnings) by offering additional features along with basic service packages- such as neatly organized notes and a video recording of a private webinar.
Become Involved with Organizations and Boards Within Your Industry
Professional organizations and volunteer groups were some of several resources discussed in the previous lesson. In addition to connecting you with new colleagues, employers, clients, and customers, involvement in professional organizations can augment your reputation. If, for example, you serve on the board of an organization that sets informal standards for your entire industry, you are far more likely to be seen as a leading figure within that industry than someone who has opted to go solo.
Utilize Social Media to Your Advantage
Many of the professionals we interviewed have not spent a dollar on advertising (e.g. SEM campaigns, magazine ads, Facebook ads, etc.). Instead, they swear by organic, word of mouth marketing.
You can encourage natural word-of-mouth promotion by:
- Engaging with clients on relevant and trending social media platforms
- Creating great products that others will want to share
- Developing products and sales tactics that give people a concrete incentive to share your product or service with others
- Building trust with your clients and customers through authenticity and excellent service
Social media channels will not foster word of mouth marketing for all types of professionals and companies. Test out a reasonably wide spread of different social media channels, then only invest significant long-term resources in those which appear to be making a difference for your brand. Also keep in mind that social media is best suited for cultivating relationships; not driving sales.
Embrace Skepticism and Critical Thinking
Almost every entrepreneur and professional enters his or her field assuming that things will be far easier than they turn out to be. A hefty dose of skepticism and critical thinking can prevent one from seeing the professional world through glasses two shades too rosy and may help one to avoid costly mistakes and losses.
Whether your devil's advocate is a friend, colleague, family member, co-founder, or your own internal dialogue, make sure you have one. Question your tactics and back up your assertions.
Be Willing to Learn as You Go Along
In addition to being sufficiently skeptical as an entrepreneur and professional, you should be open minded and, willing to experiment, and open to trying new things. Only by venturing into new frontier can you develop innovative products and services and make a name for yourself in the professional world.
As draining as it can be to develop new skills and troubleshoot your way through tough problems, it is entirely possible to do so. Intelligence and education is not nearly as important as dedication and persistence.
Maximize Your Business Trips
Do not let personal travel or business trips impede your professional progress or contribute to a backlog of work. Use them as opportunities for getting additional work done and strengthening your professional arsenals of connections, knowledge, and experiences by:
- Attending relevant panels, talks, and workshops at events you are required to attend
- Meeting new people (and following up with them afterward)
- Pitching articles about the location or event you will be visiting to publications who might like you to cover them
- Meeting up with local clients with whom you seldom have opportunities to meet in person
- Blogging about the events you attend and places you visit
- Learning about industry trends and refining new skills
- Promoting your brand and introducing more people to your expertise, business, and career
- Getting work done in your hotel room (which is devoid of the typical distractions in your home and office)
Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Though one might imagine that non-stop work would yield the greatest odds of success, unrelenting labor may increase inefficiency and the risk of burnout. Though there will be periods of your career in which your work will inevitably take a toll on your personal life (this happens with pretty much every successful professional at some point), it would be wise to systematically make room for the following things in your life:
- Personal development
- Healthy eating
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