“Every person who has ever started a business, I imagine, thought he had a good idea. It’s the smart person, and the rare person, who tries to find out the most important thing: do other people think it’s a good idea?”
Those words of wisdom come from Bernard Kamoroff, author ofSmall-Time Operator: How to Start Your Own Business, Keep Your Books, Pay Your Taxes, and Stay Out of Trouble. Whether you are evaluating the original idea for your business, or your ideas about marketing your business, Kamoroff is right.
Trying to get clients when you don’t really know what they need the most makes you an answer in search of a question. You’re going to have to turn your key in an awful lot of locks before you find the one that it fits.
It’s not enough for you to know why clients should hire you — they need to know. It’s hard enough to find clients without also having to educate them on why they would want to work with someone like you in the first place. The needs your service fills should be important enough that clients are already looking for a solution like yours before you make contact with them.
Let’s say you are an accountant looking for more year-round clients in the small business market. So you begin advertising your firm as offering “full-service accounting.” But do small business owners know they need full-service accounting? Typically, no. When they hear the word “accounting,” it’s most likely to translate in their minds to “bookkeeping and tax preparation.” If those needs are already handled, why would they need an accountant?
What you know that your potential clients probably don’t is that as an accountant, you are qualified to advise them on many areas of their business: budgeting, cash flow, investment strategies, advance tax planning, business financing, plans for expansion, incorporation, retirement and estate planning, and more. But unless you speak directly to those specific needs, your clients will never make the connection on their own.
Find out what the “hot buttons” are for people in your target market. What do they perceive to be the greatest problems they face, or the biggest goals they wish to achieve? Ask these questions of the people you serve and the other businesspeople who serve them. Read trade literature or special interest publications and educate yourself on the key issues in your marketplace.
When you have a clear picture of what your target market is truly looking for, you’ll be able to package your service as a solution. Design all your marketing tools — website, brochure, elevator speech, telemarketing script, sales presentation — to show how what you do addresses the specific hot buttons you identified.
Make sure when you describe your services to your clients that you’re using words they will recognize rather than your own industry’s jargon. Perhaps you know that as a marketing communications consultant, you are qualified to write brochures, sales letters, and advertisements. But your prospective clients may think the person they need to hire provides “copywriting” rather than “marketing communications.” They may not even recognize that your specialty is the one they need.
You will probably have much more success in connecting the dots between what you offer and what your clients need if you focus on describing the results you deliver instead of the services you provide. “I write brochures, sales letters, and ads” is much more understandable to the person on the street than “I’m a marketing communications consultant” or even “I offer copywriting services.”
Seasoned consultants and professionals know that you always get in the door to solve the “presenting problem” of your client. If the person or the organization has already identified that they have a pressing need that you can fill, you stand a much better chance of being hired to begin with.
Once you are on board and working for the client, you will no doubt uncover all sorts of other issues that need to be addressed. And since you are already on the scene, building rapport and trust, of course they will retain you to help resolve those problems.
This sequence of events is common for any service business professional, from hypnotherapists to graphic designers. The client hires the designer to create business cards; then the designer discovers the client doesn’t have a logo.
When the designer shows the client how much more impressive the business cards would be with a custom logo on them, the client agrees to pay for one. But if the designer had approached that person about creating a logo, the client would likely have refused. In the client’s mind, it was business cards that were needed.
Don’t worry if the most pressing issues your clients seem to be facing aren’t the ones you most want to work on. If you attract prospects by marketing to their perceived needs, you’ll create plenty of opportunities to explore other options with them. But if you market something they don’t yet know they want, you may never get to have the conversation.