A tag line that works

cleaning-fairiesI just saw a car with a large sign for a local housecleaning service, The Cleaning Fairies/ The tag line was perfect:

We give you your weekends back !

I live near Boulder, and there’s nothing Boulderites value more than free time we can spend in the mountains — skiing, hiking, kayaking, climbing, biking — anything to enjoy our 300+ days of sunshine every year. (And yes, when I saw their car, I was playing hookey and on my way up to the mountains, just because I’m self-employed so I can.) The message I took from the tag line is “I know how much you value your free time, and isn’t that worth way more than the cost of a cleaner?”

What better way to sell the value of your service than by reminding people of a better way they could be spending their time?

How do you describe your service to prospective clients? Do you talk about what you do or how you do it, or do you talk about the amazing thing that happens when you are done? And see this post about understanding and speaking effectively about your value.

 

Who’s showing up for work?

We solopreneurs are CEOs of our business, but that stands for Chief Everything Officer. We are responsible for everything from strategic planning to marketing to sales to accounting to – oh, yeah – whatever it is that we charge our clients for.

As I plan out my day every morning, I make sure my most strategic self is showing up. Since I’ve found that my most creative time is in the morning, I schedule my Business Analyst persona for uninterrupted time from 9 until to noon most days. After lunch, my Accounting alter ego may appear to handle invoices and bills, or the Writer will come on the scene to queue up some blog posts and a newsletter article. Some days I need my IT skills to troubleshoot the video editing software, or my Marketing self to work on a new outreach effort for AIIP.

If I approach each day’s tasks with the question “who is the best persona for this job?”, I am more likely to be operating at my peak. If I am dealing with a technology issue, I marshal my forces — my Troubleshooter, Creative Problem-Solver, and We Can Do It personas step up to help me figure out a solution. If I have to conduct some primary market research on my own business, I call up my Explorer, Listener, and Open-minded personas to enable me to find out what I don’t know I don’t know yet.

When you tackle something, particularly when it’s not tapping into your strengths, run an inventory of your internal personas and see which ones you can bring to the job.

 

Speaking Effectively About Your True Value

I recently gave two presentations on key survival skills of solopreneurs and intrapreneurs. While both were from the perspective of information professionals, many of the concepts I covered apply to any solopreneur.

While we know the impact info pros can have on their clients’ success, being seen as indispensable takes work. This means finding out how your clients see you, what they don’t even know you can do, and what their biggest unmet needs are that you can address. Then it takes communicating that value in a way that people hear and understand.

 

Successful entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs share certain characteristics. They ask “why?” a lot; they ask “why not?” even more. They focus on the future rather than the past, and seek out opportunities to improve and enhance their services. They are results-oriented rather than process-focused; they ask forgiveness rather than permission. In an info world where everyone sees themselves as expert researchers and the reaction to a page of text is TL;DR (too long; didn’t read), info-intrapreneurs must think creatively to get and keep the attention of their clients and prospective clients.

In addition, check out the recent white papers I wrote for Dow Jones on The Accidental Intrapreneur, at is.gd/bates_intrapreneur, and The True ROI of Digital Content, at is.gd/bates_ROI.

Time for Librarians to Fight Dirty

I recently saw a posting on a librarians’ discussion list for a professional position at a public library at a small community near me. It’s a lovely town and I’m sure that is part of the appeal of the job. However, the salary being offered was $16 to $20/hour for a part-time job [in an area where apartments cost at least $1,200/month]. I was horrified – that’s what I pay someone to mow my yard or walk my dogs. This is not the salary for a position that requires a graduate degree; it’s a salary appropriate for a position that requires no more than a high school education.

This job must go unfilled, at least by a professional. We librarians should not forward these kinds of job listings or encourage other library professionals to apply. The head librarian needs to go back to the town council and tell them that the library is unable to fill a professional job at this low salary and will need to either reduce services or obtain additional funding for the position.

Info pros need to learn the Washington Monument Gambit. What does the US Department of the Interior do when its budget is cut? It closes the Washington Monument – a popular tourist destination staffed by National Park Service rangers – and suggests frustrated voters head over to the offices of their Congressional representatives to voice their feelings.

Librarians need to fight as dirty as park rangers. If we are not given the funding we need, we have to ensure that our organization’s stakeholders feel the pain. Instead of absorbing budget cuts by curtailing professional development, paying professional librarians absurdly low salaries, or eliminating essential resources, we need to fight back.

We have to talk about the tangible value libraries and information professionals bring to an organization or community. (See a white paper I recently wrote on the ROI of Digital Content at is.gd/bates_ROI.) We have to identify the people who can most effectively advocate for additional funding and engage them in ongoing conversations about the role of the library.

And we have to make sure that no employer can expect to pay professionals with graduate degrees $16/hour, regardless of the charm of its clientele.

 

Marketing Through Vignettes

Antique Greek OratorHave you ever struggled to describe what you do so your prospective clients really hear you? Do they look at your web site and say “Oh, that’s nice” or do they immediately recognize you as the person who can help solve their most important problem?

One way to talk about your services memorably is by telling a story. My 10-Vignettes Exercise, which takes no more than an hour or two to complete, helps clarify how you describe who you are and what you do for your clients. And if you don’t have any clients yet, use this as an exercise to picture your prospective clients.

Here’s how it works:
Write 10 stories, each of no more than three sentences or about 100 words. Each story will describe a situation a client is in, what the client got from you at the end, and how the client benefited. You don’t discuss how you did the work, what resources you used, or even what kind of work you did. The truth is that your clients don’t care what you do or how you do it. They just want you to solve their problem.

These vignettes don’t have to describe actual client situations; in fact, they should be sufficiently anonymized that a client would not recognize her own project. Provide examples of what happens after your clients engage you. And while you’re at it, include the budget you think represents the value you offer your clients for this kind of work.

Here’s what a vignette might look like.

[describe your client’s situation] My client was considering moving into the organic personal care market.

[describe what your client gets from you] I provided my client with a customized analysis of the market, with the key issues and strongest competitors highlighted.

[describe what the client does as a result of your work] My client decided to focus on organic baby care products, realizing this was the one area in which they had a clear advantage.

[describe the budget] My client paid $6,000 for this report. (Don’t include this last item in your marketing material; just use it to stay focused on how you can provide the highest value to your clients.)

The virtue of this exercise is that it takes the focus away from you and your services and puts the attention to where it belongs – what your client values. An additional benefit is that you can put these vignettes up on your web site; they are a far more effective way to showcase your value than just listing your services.

20 Ways to Kick-Start Your Marketing

Checklist paper and pen.Every business experiences lulls, times when it seems that you barely have the energy to drag yourself into your office, and you can’t stand the thought of having to go out and generate business. This happens to everyone, and it often happens at the end of the year and during the middle of the year, as people are out of the office or in vacation mode and not doing a lot. Here are some of the actions I add to my marketing plan when I need to rev my marketing efforts up a notch.

1. Directly ask for referrals from your existing clients and prospects. “Who do you know who needs to compete better in their marketplace, who I might contact?”

2. Get in touch with your clients, just to check in. I never cease to marvel at how effective this technique is. Our clients often have a need for our services, but need our prompting to engage our services. Remember, our clients have already shown that they are sources of business.

3. Revisit your existing client list and evaluate who your best clients have been, in terms of project budgets, repeat business, and referrals. Think about what these clients have in common and how you found them. Where could you find other clients like these?

4. Look through your social networks. If you have not established connections with all of your clients, now is the time to do it. And see who their contacts are; if you see any that you think may use your services, ask your client for a connection or introduction.

5. If you identify a new issue or concern to your clients’ businesses, design a specific research product or service that would address your client’s specific needs, and send a (hard copy) letter to your affected clients, telling them about your new offering.

6. Write an article for a publication your clients read. It need not be long, and it should be practical and non-technical. Offer tips on staying updated on new web resources in their industry, or review a new information source.

7. Write ten blog posts and queue them up for posting over the next couple of months.

8. Prepare for and conduct three reality-check interviews with prospects in an industry that is new to you. Learn what their specific pain points are and develop an approach to market to this industry.

9. Identify a current topic of interest to your client base: “Best Practices for Using Social Media for Business Intelligence”, “Most Significant Competitive Intelligence Blogs” or “Best Uses for Twitter”, for example. Conduct your own survey of your network; this is a great time to ping your clients, colleagues, and prospects. Write up the results into a white paper, promote it on your website, and notify all your clients of the availability of your resource.

10. Look through all your projects from the last six months or year. Follow up on the issues that are regular concerns for your clients and send them a recent article on the topic with a note to the effect of “I saw this and thought you might find it useful with regard to {our recent project}”.

11. Commit to three networking outings a week. This could be anyone from a colleague to a prospect to a client. Take a friend to lunch and focus on building your mutual networks. Ask him what kinds of leads he would like to hear about; depending on what he does, that might be sales referrals, job opportunities, leads for good employees, or client projects. Tell him what kinds of clients you are specifically looking for. These kinds of meetings are great ways to hone your 15-second “here’s how I will help you make strategic decisions” speech, and they keep that word-of-mouth network humming.

12. Use an obscure holiday as an excuse to send out greeting cards to your clients and vendors. I remember a family friend who sent out cards for Groundhog’s Day every year; if your contacts are familiar with this North American holiday, this can be a fun way of staying in touch. The Spring or Fall Equinox, the Queen’s Birthday, Mardi Gras, or even something as silly as International Respect for Chickens Day (May 4) can serve as a reason for sending a card. And yes, these are real cards, that get stamped and put in the mailbox.

13. On a related note, check the social network profiles of your clients. If they list their birthday, be sure to send a card. And yes, that’s a printed birthday card, not an ecard.

14. Call a fellow info-entrepreneur. Ask her how her business is doing. Ask her what was the most important change she has made to her business in the last year. Share an interesting resource with her.

15. Call someone who is reliably upbeat and positive. That kind of energy is contagious.

16. Commit to reading every issue of several business newspapers or magazines for a month. Cut out at least two articles from each issue that a client may find useful. Send a hard copy, along with a couple of business cards, and a note along the lines of “I saw this and thought of you.”

17. Identify one new association that your prospective clients are likely to belong to, join it, and evaluate how you can volunteer strategically in a member-facing capacity.

18. Attend a Meet-Up or local chapter meeting of an association you find interesting, even if you do not expect to find clients. Consider the visit to be professional development, not just marketing. I sometimes find my best clients when I am not looking for them.

19. Schedule a meeting of your advisory board. If you do not have one, this is a good reason to set one up. Identify four or five people whom you respect, who understand the issues of running a professional services business, and who are willing to give you honest feedback. Ideally, these are people who live in your general area, and can meet with you. If that is not reasonable, build a virtual advisory board that “meets” online.

20. Review all your professional listings, in the professional associations you belong to, on your social networks, and anywhere else you have your company listed. Upgrade and freshen up your listings, revising them to target your current market and to reflect your clients’ current concerns.

The Anti-Elevator Speech

elevatorWhen someone asks you what you do, do you freeze up or start stammering? You need a concise, memorable response prepared for all the times when you’re asked about your work. This is sometimes called your “elevator speech.” Why? Imagine stepping into an elevator with your biggest prospect. She turns to you and asks, “So, what exactly do you do?” You have 30 seconds—the time it takes for the elevator to get to her destination on the 25th floor—to describe yourself in such a way that she immediately understands why you are the solution to her problems.

Unfortunately, most people see their elevator speech as an opportunity to tell their life story and rattle off a laundry list of services they provide to their clients. All this does is serve to notify the victim, er, the listener that this person is more interested in talking about himself than about what he can do for his clients. Instead, create an anti-elevator speech that focuses on results instead of activity. Three alternatives I recommend include Elevator Q&A, Elevator Ping Pong, and Elevator Story-Telling.

Elevator Q&A
Paul and Sarah Edwards, the authors of a number of books about home-based businesses, describe a useful formula for developing your 15- to 30-second introduction. The template they use is this:“You know how [describe typical clients’ problem]? Well, I [solve problem] by [doing this].” For example, “You know how frustrating it is when you have to make a strategic decision without all the information you need? Well, my company helps you make better decisions by providing you with insight on your competitors.” Or, “You know how hard it is to care for elderly parents when you don’t live nearby? Well, I coordinate local care for my clients’ loved ones throughout the Puget Sound area, and consider each one to be part of my family.”

Elevator Ping Pong
Instead of developing a speech, remember that you just want to get a conversation going. So, when someone asks you what you do, give an answer that invites further interaction. A business researcher might say “I keep my clients from making big mistakes” or “I help my clients look brilliant”.  (I learned this approach from a man who sold automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and would tell people that he was in the human jumper-cable business. If that doesn’t invite at least a “what?” from the listener, nothing will…) Think of a way to describe yourself that is intriguing, thought-provoking, or even startling.

Elevator Story-Telling
We humans are innate storytellers. An effective way of describing yourself so that you are memorable is to tell your listener a story in just three sentences. The first sentence describes the client’s situation; the second sentence tells what your client got; the last sentence says what your clients were able to do next. An example from my own experience is, “A product director was considering a move into the organic personal care market. I provided an overview of the market, with the key issues summarized. My client decided to focus on organic baby care products, an area in which they had a clear advantage.”

Keep the following in mind as you work on your personalized version of the answer to, “So, what do you do?”
•    Avoid industry jargon or buzzwords such as “solutions.” Word of mouth travels a lot farther if people outside your field understand and can describe to others what you do.
•    Keep it short. They’re asking you for a reason to use your services, not your life story or a laundry list of services.
•    Make yourself recession-proof. What are your clients’ critical needs—things they view as essential, not just nice to have? (Don’t know? Conduct some reality-check interviews and find out!)
•    Focus on benefits that provide clear added value. Talk about services that your clients can’t or won’t do for themselves and that solve a problem or help them achieve their goals.
•    Make sure you can deliver your introduction with enthusiasm. If you’re excited about your business, others will be as well.

Practice your 15-second introduction with everyone you encounter and watch their responses. If you get a blank stare, well, you just learned one way not to describe yourself. Keep at it until you’ve found a few intros that feel genuine, you can say with passion, and that the other person understands. Everyone can be part of your word-of-mouth network if you learn how to effectively convey why people love your product or services so much.

More super-searcher tips

searchingIt’s the beginning of conference season for us public speakers… along with the daffodils appear boarding passes and PowerPoint slides. One of my favorite conferences is Computers in Libraries, and I will be leading the Searcher Academy pre-conference workshop as well as giving a regular presentation on super searcher tips.

I have more tips than I could fit into a blog post; here are a few of my favorites that I will be sharing at Computers in Libraries:

* All of us consider ourselves to be above-average Google searchers. However, there are times when you can be too clever for Google and wind up with unexpected results. Say your search logic is  (A and B) OR (C and D)(Australia AND snakes) OR (Colorado AND mountain lions), for example, if you were comparing the dangerous animals of two regions. However, this search gets translated into logical gibberish by Google — Australia AND (snakes OR Colorado) AND mountain lions. You will get better results by separating your query into two different searches.

* How you word your search matters – a lot! I was looking for information on Uber’s market strategy and found dramatically different results with the following three seemingly similar queries: Uber market strategyWhat is Uber’s market strategy and Uber “market strategy”. Always try several versions of your query, as there is surprisingly little overlap among the results of similar searches.

*Use MillionShort.com if you are researching an obscure topic, an individual, or looking for any kind of long-tail resource. This search engine lets you eliminate from your search result any of the million most popular web sites. You can also filter out any sites that have advertising or that appear to be e-commerce sites, which can be an effective way to find the web site for a small non-profit or a group committed to a cause.

You can see some of my prior super-searcher tips here and here.

Libraries and digital content purchasing

data-streamI recently conducted a flash survey to learn the key issues specialized libraries are facing regarding the purchase of digital content such as value-added online services, ebooks and online journals. What I learned surprised me… a lot!

When I asked the survey participants an open-ended question about their biggest concerns regarding their digital content budget, I expected a fairly wide range of answers. Instead, over a quarter of them said that their largest frustration is that their vendors raise rates every year for the same content, whereas the library budget stays flat, forcing them to cut back somewhere else just to maintain the same level of content as the year before. Significantly fewer respondents mentioned lack of budget support from management and concerns about selecting the right content and getting a good ROI from their digital content purchasing.

I also asked about the most important factors when selecting or changing digital content vendors. It wasn’t even close — cost and content were mentioned by most of the respondents, with considerations such as functionality, ease of use, vendor relationship or contractual terms being mentioned far less frequently. Interestingly, although many online vendors tout their exclusive content, not a single respondent mentioned exclusive content as a consideration. (Email me if you’d like a copy of the survey results.)

Bottom line: It’s not the bells and whistles, advanced features, a great account rep or exclusive access to Widgets Daily. Librarians buy digital content based on whether they get the content set they need at a price that fits within their budget. Offer them something with a better ROI and they’ll switch.

 

 

When clients want sample deliverables

“Well, what you do sounds interesting, but could you send me a sample project?”

This is one of the most-feared questions a solopreneur encounters. You might freeze, not having a portfolio of the best, sufficiently-anonymized examples of what you do. A much better approach is to turn the question around and find out what your prospective client is most concerned about. What is he really worried about — that you can’t do the work? that your deliverable will be a piece of junk? something else?

Instead of getting that deer-in-the-headlights look, take one or more of these approaches to reassure your clients that you know what you are doing and that you are confident that you will meet their specific needs.

The most straightforward answer is to refocus your client on his specific need:

“As you can imagine, each of my deliverables is a custom product developed for that client’s specific needs. Each project is custom designed, so what I develop for you will look different from anything I have done for any other client. Rather than show you something that addressed a different need, what if I sketch out what I am imagining the end result to look like?” (Note: you’re not providing the end result, just formatting something so your client can see you are committed to providing a decision-ready deliverable.)

Another approach, particularly if you are just starting your business, is to anticipate these requests and prepare an example of what you want to be known for. Find a non-profit organization or other group for whom you could provide a strategic service.  Conduct a few reality-check interviews with the leaders of the organization and identify a strategic need they have that you could address, at least in part. You don’t want to give away all your services for free, but you do want a meaningful opportunity to shine and demonstrate what you want to be known for. Once you know what you could do for the organization, write up a proposal, spelling out your request that you be able to share some version of the deliverable to prospective clients.

And finally, listen to your gut. If you get the feeling that this prospective client doesn’t have confidence in your ability, or is skeptical about the value of your deliverable, you may want to walk away from the job. Taking a job with a client who doesn’t already believe that you are the right person often results in an unsatisfied client and a frustrated solopreneur.