Resumé or dog whistle?

dog1What’s one of the first things you do when you launch a business? Get a domain name and set up a web site on a platform like WordPress. You pick one of the popular templates, write up descriptions of your services, grab a few stock photos and you’re good to go. No-brainer, right?

The problem with this approach is that you wind up creating an online presence that often just looks like a glorified resumé. Most business web site templates encourage you to create lists of things — what your services are, what your background and credentials are, frequently-asked questions and so on. If you are writing your own marketing content instead of using a branding professional, it’s easy to get sucked into thinking that all you have to do is write up a description of yourself and your services, and the clients will come. This approach forces everyone who comes to your site to figure out for themselves why they should care about what you do. You’re making your prospective clients do all the work.

Instead, create content that speaks directly to your ideal clients. Don’t tell them what you do; talk about what amazing things happen to your clients when you’re done. Focus on outcomes, not activity. For example:

  • A temporary staffing agency could say We make sure you’re always ready when your customers need you.
  • An eldercare consultant could say I help you be there even when you can’t.
  • A graphic designer could say We help you show your clients who you really are.

How do you figure out what those outcomes look like? What is it that your clients value the most about you? Why would they work with you instead of any of the other people who offer similar services? HINT: it’s not your background or extensive experience in the field. It’s because you are focused on what your clients care about. By talking about why your clients use you instead of what you do, you turn your web site from a resumé to a dog whistle that directly calls to your ideal clients.

If you want to find that priceless description of the magic that happens when you work with a client, you have to ask them. And what they tell you will undoubtedly not be what you expect. A hedge-fund consultant who helps investors avoid the next Bernie Madoff found out her clients value her flexibility with changing investment priorities more than they care about the specialized resources she uses or her professional certifications. So on her web site she emphasizes her ability to shift based on changing market priorities rather than her extensive background. She knows what matters more to her specific clients.

One easy approach to learning what your clients really value is to ask them how they would describe you to a colleague. Most clients will respond not with a recitation of the kinds of work you do but with a story of why they need you. I’ve heard answers like “We call Mary Ellen when we don’t know how to reach out to our customers” or “I use Mary Ellen when I’m starting a project and don’t even know what I don’t know.” Priceless!

And what if you don’t have any clients yet, or if you want to expand into a new market where you don’t know your clients’ biggest concerns? It’s time to roll up your sleeves and do a half-dozen reality-check interviews. These conversations are invaluable tools for finding out what your potential clients really care about and what words they use to describe their biggest concerns. When your web site addresses the issues that resonate most with your market, they come to you already sold on your value to them right now. Yes, it takes time to conduct this type of primary research, and the reward is a web presence that speaks to the people you want to hear you.

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