Monthly Archives: Jan 2012

Marketing Professional Services

Need Something Interesting To Write About? Try This.

My core marketing strategy is to produce valuable content to showcase my expertise and build relationships with potential clients long before we ever meet.

And whether it’s blog posts, longer articles, podcasts or videos – the core challenge for anyone following such a content strategy is coming up with interesting stuff to “write about”.

In fact, the number one reason I hear from people who want to get into blogging or content marketing but have struggled to do so is that they just can’t imagine producing enough interesting material. Or they’ve tried and then run out of steam.

Well, let me introduce you to Dave Gorman.

Dave’s a comedian based here in the UK. He started his career fairly gently by writing for established acts, and his first show at the Edinburgh Fringe “Reasons to be Cheerful” was based on an analysis of whether the items mentioned in the Ian Dury song “Reasons to be Cheerful #3” actually were reasons to be cheerful.

So far, so not very much.

But then Gorman hit on a brilliant idea which would propel him towards 4 bestselling books, sellout live shows and his own TV series.

And it’s one we can all use ourselves.

The simple idea was that instead of trying to think of interesting things to write about for his act, he would do interesting things – and then write about those.

It turns out that people are far more interested in the weird or exciting things you’ve done that in the weird or exciting things you’ve just thought about.

So Gorman’s 1999 Fringe show was called “Dave Gorman’s Better World” and was created by him writing thousands of anonymous letters to local newspapers asking for suggestions from the public on how to create a better world – and testing them out to see if they worked.

His next wheeze was triggered by spotting that an assistant manager at small Scottish football team East Fife had the same name as him. So he drove 450 miles to meet him and photograph the event. He then set about meeting another 53 Dave Gormans across the world (one for every card in a pack of cards plus the jokers apparently). He chronicled his adventures meeting these Dave Gormans in the book and TV show “Are You Dave Gorman?”.

Next, he resolved to live his life according to a literal interpretation of his horoscope each day. Turned out pretty well when he bet everything he had on rank outsider Ian Woosnam (who he shared a birthday with) winning the Dubai Classic golf tournament (which, of course, he travelled to see) and won.

After that, he started his “Googlewhack Adventure” when he became obsessed by finding google search phrases with only one result – and then travelling the world to find the person behind that single result. The result for him was another bestselling book and TV show.

More recently, he travelled America avoiding all corporate outlets and using only family owned hotels, restaurants and petrol (gas) stations. “America Unchained” was again a bestseller.

Then he challenged the public to take him on at any game of their choice – from poker to darts to Khett to Cluedo to Kubb. And of course, he travelled to play them and chronicled his adventures in yet another besteller.

So how can we harness this approach for ourselves?

The key is that people are more interested in what you’ve done than what you think.

What I mean by that is that it’s great to have new ideas, theories about your field, predictions for the future.

But what really gets people hooked is hearing about practical experiences.

You can cull those from your own personal experience. Or you can interview others or create case studies.

Or you can do what Dave Gorman did: go out and do something interesting.

You recommend a particular approach to leadership, for example? Use it yourself. Get your clients to use it and record the outcomes. Video interview them afterwards. Get them to chronicle their experiences.

You show people how to get more traffic to their website? Create a live case study from scratch. Build a website, put some content on it, follow your traffic strategies and record the results.

In my case, I test out the marketing strategies I recommend myself. A lot of what you see on my blog is a result of my own experiments (particularly with online marketing) to see what works and what doesn’t.

You can do the same.

You want inspiration? You need something interesting to write about?

Then do something interesting.

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Here’s something on a similar vein. PR Guru David Meerman Scott describes how he got 50,000 twitter followers. Not by obsessing about getting twitter followers, but by publishing 4 books, doing 126 talks in 15 countries, shooting 125 videos etc. In other words, doing interesting stuff makes you an interesting person to follow. Read more here: The secret to getting 50,000 followers on twitter.

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So what’s your source of inspiration and ideas for great content? Drop me a comment below, I’d love to hear and share.

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Business Development Strategy

The Twin Track Strategy For Startup Professional Firms

One of the stories I hear the most often from struggling solo professionals or small firms is that they did well for a couple of years after starting up and then just kind of plateaued.

Usually what’s happened is that work came in easily in the early days. Ex clients and colleagues heard they were now out on their own and sent work their way. They did a good job and got repeat business and a few referrals.

But eventually, they ran out of steam. The close circle of people who knew them well enough to feel confident sending work to them ran dry or was hit by recession, retirement or other factors.

Sometimes the steam runs out after 12 months. Sometimes after 18 months. Sometimes it can be as long as 2 or 3 years.

But eventually it will run out, unless you start actively marketing yourself and widening your network.

Clients buy for meany reasons. With clients who know you well, who like you, and who trust you and your capabilities, you don’t have to do much active marketing or selling to them.

But this can trap you into complacency.

You see, the potential clients who don’t know you so well – the ones outside your close circle – they see a different picture.

They don’t have that history with you. That experience that tells them you’re a safe pair of hands. So they look for external indicators that you’d be a good choice to work with them.

Are you a recognised leader in your field? If they google your name do they see lots of articles where you share your expertise? Are you presenting on your topic frequently? Can they find lots of testimonials saying what a great job you did? Does your website inspire them that you know the area they need help in like the back of your hand?

For most professionals who’ve been getting all their work from existing relationships and referrals, the answer is usually no.

Many of them are incredibly talented – but they’ve never had to showcase that talent to the world before. The clients who hired them already knew they were good.

And it takes time to build your reputation. To build your website and fill it with content. To build a portfolio of testimonials, published articles and successful speaking engagements.

So you need to start on this early.

When you first start up the majority of your business is likely to come from people who already know you. Ex clients and referrals. You need to focus and actively work these channels.

But you also need to adopt a parallel strategy of building your authority in your field. Writing, blogging, speaking. These are the things that will bring clients to you in the future and prove your capabilities for people who don’t already know you.

In know this from my own personal experience. I went through the exact same pattern with the business from ex clients and colleagues largely drying up after a year or so.

But thankfully (and I have to admit, somewhat luckily as I’d done it out of interest rather than as a deliberate strategy) I’d been writing and blogging for over 12 months by the time that happened and was beginning to bring in leads via my website.

If you’re just starting your own business make sure you do something similar. Don’t rely on people who already know how great you are to keep you in business forever. You need to start working on building your authority and market position from day 1.

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Image by the real kam75

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Marketing Professional Services

3 Relentless Trends That Are Disrupting Marketing

A while ago I was named by OpenView Labs as one of their Top 25 Sales Influencers – their list of “25 of the most powerful thought leaders in the world of sales management, lead generation, and more”.

Quite flattering. And it got me thinking that I ought to be doing a bit of influencing…

I’m not going to make outlandish predictions, or tell you that everything’s going to change overnight – because it isn’t.

But what I think we will see is the continuation – perhaps the acceleration – of some powerful trends that are changing the way we need to market and sell our services.

The first big trend is that our clients just have so much less time available than ever before.

Now I’m sure you’ve noted this for yourself before. We’re all busier and busier these days.

But it’s a vital issue for marketing because what’s happening is that our clients are reducing or withdrawing from a lot of activities that used to bring them into early contact with professionals.

The days of clients holding speculative meetings with potential suppliers “just in case” something useful might come out of it, or to “discuss their needs” are long gone.

And I don’t know about you, but whereas even a few years ago when I went to networking events and met interesting people who I didn’t see an immediate opportunity to work with – I’d arrange a “follow up coffee” and we’d explore each other’s businesses and maybe something would roll out of it downstream.

I just don’t do those sort of meetings any more. And neither do clients. No time.

And that means that networking and trying to get those early discussion meetings with clients is becoming increasingly less effective as a marketing approach.

The second big trend is that we’re all becoming much more resistant to – even resentful of – being “sold to”.

We want to be in control of how we buy and decide. We hate being pushed or manipulated. The old advice to salespeople that they must “control the process” is a surefire route to losing the sale these days.

A few months ago, for example, I wanted to change my business bank account and was about to start looking around when I got a phone call from a nice lady from Barclays Bank offering to tell me about their business account and the benefits it would bring me.

Great timing seemingly. Just what I wanted.

Except I said “no thanks, if I want to find out about your account I’ll look it up online”.

It was a knee-jerk reaction to avoid being sold to. But it made sense too. We’ve all experienced that when we actively search for things we want rather than passively reacting to salespeople, we get a much better deal.

The impact: marketing methods like cold calling or advertising that interrupt our clients and where we try to “push” our stuff on them just don’t work any more.

Well, they still work a bit. But they’re a lot, lot harder work.

And the final trend? We all have so much more choice available to us.

Or more accurately, we now have much more visibility of our choices – we can see what’s out there.

In the “old days” – perhaps only a few years ago – when a client hired a new professional to work with them it was a huge leap of faith.

Usually the client wasn’t an expert in the area, and they had very little to go on: a CV, some references (but everyone has great references don’t they? Even the duffers). And their experience of the person when they met them.

So very often once a client found someone who did a good job for them they’d keep using them. Often in areas where they weren’t a real expert.

The fact that they could trust them, that they worked hard and hit their deadlines made them a “safe pair of hands”. They were a much less risky option than the potential expert who the client just didn’t know.

But nowadays when you’re looking for a professional, for very many (myself included) you can watch video of them on the web. You can read a bunch of their articles and get a sense of whether they really know their stuff. You can get a feeling for whether you’d be able to work with them.

It’s not the same as having worked with them before. But it’s very often enough to tip the balance in their favour vs the safe pair of hands.

As a result, “client loyalty” is declining.

I say “client loyalty” in quotes as in many cases it wasn’t that the client was loyal – it was just that the other options seemed too risky. Now they don’t.

So now the easy option for professionals of just doing project after project for a client that sees them as a safe option is declining too.

Now these forces all look on the face of it like big risks. Decreasing loyalty, resistance to “selling”, no time to meet us.

But they’re also a huge opportunity too. A growing cadre of potential clients being marketed to in ineffective ways by your competitors means a big opening for you.

More on that soon…

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Business Development Strategy

How I Escaped My Certain Fate…

Over the holidays I’ve been reading comedian Stewart Lee’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate which chronicles his rise, fall and rise again in the world of stand up comedy.

As well as being a pretty funny book, it contains a huge marketing lesson for all of us.

Lee was part of double act Lee and Herring who had a relatively successful show on the BBC for a couple of years (relatively successful in the sense that it was my favourite programme and lasted a couple of series). Despite that, when he returned to the stand-up circuit he struggled.

In essence, his nonchalant delivery, choice of material and complex routines meant that he didn’t have the mass appeal of more populist comedians of the era. Despite his TV success and respect from “those in the know” (Ricky Gervais cited him as his favourite comedian, for example), he simply couldn’t get enough people turning up to his gigs to make money from them. So he retired from stand up in 2000.

After achieving critical (though again, not huge monetary) success as the writer of Jerry Springer The Opera, he returned to stand up in 2004 – prompted partly by being accused of copying Gervais who had actually been influenced by him.

This time, things were different.

Instead of trying to make a success of the mainstream circuit, he took advice from comedy poet John Hegley who told him “you only need a few thousand fans. And if they all give you ten pounds a year, you’re away”.

He wasn’t particularly ambitious. He just wanted to do what he loved doing and, in his words, “survive”.

Rather than trying to get booked in big venues and trying to attract large mainstream audiences, he got his booker to focus on smaller locations with audiences who would be be open to his type of humour.

“Instead of going on for guaranteed fees in empty council venues and failing to build an audience, or boring the shit out of Friday night punters who just wanted to have some fun between work and the disco, I needed to be in the dedicated comedy clubs that had flourished in my absence from the circuit, playing for smaller fees to smaller crowds composed of people that would get it and would come back next time with a friend”.

His shows were promoted by “…letting nerds all over the land know about your work via these newfangled social networking sites…”.

He took inspiration from the obscure Jazz musicians he loved and how they ran their affairs “direct marketing their work to sustainably farmed fan bases”.

And it worked.

Audiences of 20 to 30 became 50 to 60 became 100 to 200 and eventually up to 500 to 600.

A TV series followed which won him best comedy programme and best male comedian at last year’s British Comedy Awards. He’s currently mid way through a 4 month daily run at the Leicester Square Theatre before heading out on tour again.

The lesson for all of us?

Most of us and our businesses are more like a Stewart Lee than a Michael McIntyre or a John Bishop.

We’re never going to have the widespread appeal to fill stadiums with the average man on the street. But we should be able to find a few thousand people who love what we do.

And that’s enough.

If we can find them. If we can connect with them and inspire them to hire us or pay us for something. If they become big enough fans to “bring their friends”.

Then we’ve got very successful business.

And the way to do it is the same way Lee did it. Direct marketing to a targeted fan base – rather than trying to please a mass audience.

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