Client Acquisition Tips

According to client acquisition coach and best-selling author Brian Hilliard (Networking Like A Pro [2017] with David Alexander and Ivan Misner), the most vital task for B2B service providers is to organize and articulate your company’s services in a way that makes it easy for prospective clients to understand what you do.  As the in-house marketing and sales expert, the Freelancer must create marketing messages and sales pitches that enable prospects to figure out how and when to work with you.

Yet the unfortunate tendency is for Freelancers to present their services as all things to all people, preventing prospects from getting a handle on what you can do for them (and I’ve done this, BTW).  Casting a wide net may seem like a winning strategy, but in reality it often results in a bewildered and frustrated prospect who doesn’t know how to use your expertise—so they don’t. It’s essential to help prospects see solutions in your services if you expect to make sales and build a client list.  Getting specific is the way to do it, Hilliard says:

  • Promote your services to prospects with the motive and money to do business
  • Define your services using terminology and selling points that the prospect will understand
  • Demonstrate that you can deliver requested services and ensure desired outcomes
  • Price at a level that clients accept and also generates a good profit for you

In your next prospect meeting, when you’re asked “Tell me more about what you do?” give an example of how you’d implement the basic option and the premium option of a service that fits with what s/he might need.  Since you will have become specific, you can expect that your prospect will then become comfortable enough to reveal specifics about his/her reason for speaking with you.  When you hear the details, you can then provide  more precisely tailored versions of your basic and premium options.

Next, although it will take both courage and discipline, stop talking and let the prospect ask questions or provide feedback on your proposed solutions. Expect to be asked if you’re able to further customize a solution and of course you’ll gladly do so.  Whatever you can do to add value will increase your chance of getting the sale.

Finally, there will be the price negotiation.  Ask for the amount of the project budget, to increase the chance that you’ll present an acceptable (verbal) estimate for your services.  If it seems to you that in order to provide the requested services your estimate might somewhat exceed the client’s budget, be willing to negotiate.  When you’ve shown the prospect that you can speak to and address what s/he needs, you’ll probably sign a contract and a new client will join your roster.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Isidor Kaufmann (1853-1921, Austro-Hungarian) A Business Secret, 1917      private collection

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Rethinking Your Services

Like lovers, clients can be fickle. Both will tell you that they love you and everything about you and everything you do, that is until they don’t, and they leave you for someone else.  I take this to mean that in business as in love, one should never get too comfortable.  Continuing to do the same things in the same way can become very predictable and therefore boring.  You could eventually be considered to be outdated or out of touch.

Clients and lovers want to be understood.  They crave a partner who is aware of their shifting needs and priorities, without being told.  Talking to clients and lovers to find out how they feel about the relationship is a useful exercise, but the conversation will not always elicit the truth.  It could be that our perceived lapses and failings do not become apparent until a competitor comes along and persuades them that they can do better.

To sustain healthy and satisfying business and intimate relationships, we must hone our intuition and be prepared to never rest on our laurels.  Continually affirming one’s value is key, in both short and long-term scenarios.  I suspect that the 24 hour news cycle and 140 character messages have contributed to the brief attention spans, impatience and need for instant gratification that seem to have overtaken us.

In defense, I suggest that periodically, a brand refresh that includes an update in how services are described and packaged will do some good.  Think of Lady Gaga as you engineer a little shake-up every three years or so.  Staying abreast with what is happening in the industries in which your clients operate will be helpful, so that you can learn about the challenges and priorities that your clients see and you may be able to see opportunities for you new or expanded services.  If nothing else, you’ll can become fluent in the jargon and terms that your clients use to describe themselves and that will add to your credibility when you echo that in your content marketing and client meetings. When you speak their language they will know that you “get it” and that you can be trusted to deliver the outcomes they need.

As a caveat, I also suggest that you beware the temptation of giving your clients precisely what they say they want in every instance and in particular, avoid being swayed by a vocal minority.  Keep client preferences in mind (especially if a clear majority raises the same issues), but understand that clients (and lovers) are not always able to articulate what will make them happy enough to stay with you.

This may be apocryphal, but it’s been said that when the late founder of Ford Motor Company, the legendary inventor and entrepreneur Henry Ford, was asked if he spoke with potential customers to learn what improvements they wanted to see in the transportation field, replied, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.’ ”

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky advised that when playing, you have to skate to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been. CEOs from Warren Buffet to the late Steve Jobs have quoted that line because keeping that advice in mind is how one builds a successful company.  Where the puck is going will be impacted by recent innovations, the economic climate and even social and political developments.  Always, we must stay on top of developments because that is the only way that one who is in business can project what clients might want us to do for them, either next month or next year.

So what does a Freelance consultant do to find out what’s going on? The short answer is to keep your eyes and ears open and fully engage in your business and your life.  Read blogs, newsletters and business magazines. Occasionally listen to a webinar, attend a seminar and go to a business or professional association meeting. Talk to your clients and colleagues, friends and family.

There is a tidal wave of information to soak up, but it isn’t necessary to drink from the firehose and become overwhelmed.  Just be consistent.  Be open to how new information can benefit your clients and you can ask their opinions about some of what you’ve heard or read.  Invite your clients to interpret some things for you, since they are best positioned to do so.  You will then understand the  big picture and when you do, you’ll see where the puck is going to be.

Thanks for reading,

KIm

 

The Most Profitable Small Businesses

What was your Fiscal Year 2015 net pofit margin? Did you reach your projection? Are you solvent and able to manage your accounts payable, business and household? Were you able to buy useful and comprehensive medical and dental insurance?  Were you able to deposit $10 K  or more into your retirement account? Did you travel to some nice location during the year and reward yourself with a vacation?

If the answer to two or more of those questions is no,  I respectfully suggest that you think about your Freelance consulting venture.  If you were able to put $7500 into your retirement account but you’ve not taken a real vacation in 5 years,  it does not raise a red flag in my estimation.  But if you have trouble paying bills, you have only the cheapest health insurance available and you infrequently or never pay into your retirement fund,  then you need to devise a way to make more money.  One of your options may be not just to tweak your business model and engineer a pivot. You may need to go into another type of venture altogether, one with greater profit-making potential.

Take heed– Sageworks, a financial data service located in Raleigh, NC, analyzed the net profit margins of 16,000 small businesses that earned less than $10 million between September 2014 and August 2015.  The average net profit across all industries in that time period was  7.2%.

Note that this list of top performers consists almost entirely of Freelancer-friendly service industries.  Despite the challenges of selling services, especially intangible services,  to either B2B or B2C clients,  Sagework’s list demonstrates that it is possible  to make money as a self-employed service provider.

Some industries are more soloprenuer-Freelancer friendly than others.  Accountants/bookkeepers, real estate sellers, lawyers,  landlords,  health  practitioners (physical therapists, chiropractors, podiatrists, etc.), graphics/industrial designers and architects/(structural) engineers are all able to operate a one-person shop quite well, perhaps with a single employee to provide administrative help.  Physicians, I’m sorry to say,  can no longer maintain a solo practice in big cities.

Educational requirements and professional credentials pose a formidable barrier to entry for several of these high-yield business opportunities, with medicine, dentistry, law, architecture, engineering, chiropractic and accounting (CPA or certified financial analyst) leading the list.  In contrast, real estate sales requires only the right relationships,  a license to do business and no real selling skills if you are in a hot market.  If someone with a real estate broker’s license brings you into the business,  you can work under the umbrella of that person’s credential.

I confess that I look askance at the stated prospects for attorneys.  There have been many mergers between big law firms and as a result, many lay-offs. I’ve personally known a couple of lawyers who had a hard time finding employment and when it was obtained, the job was an assistant district attorney that pays maybe $50 K a year.

I’ve read about lawyers with degrees from Ivy League schools (UPenn and Columbia) saddled with six figure debt and no job.  I recently read about a young lady who sued her (accredited but undistinguished) law school,  claiming that the advertised post-grad job statistics are false and also charging that the career services department was useless. She lost her case,  but I suspect that her argument is valid nevertheless.

From a former employee of a very prestigious law firm who was let go four or five years ago (and started her own profitable boutique firm),  recent law school grads who were hired by prestigious firms over the past couple of years have been subjected to a shocking bait & switch game—from a law firm, no less!  An offer letter is sent, in which the new hire learns that s/he will not start the dream job for two years.  Oh, and the salary will be $20K less than was originally negotiated.

While some attorneys do quite well, like my friend, many  self-employed lawyers in solo or small enterprises struggle as the big firms shed employees. Welcome to the new normal. Below are the small businesses that in the U.S. that on average have the healthiest profit margins.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Business                                                                                   Net profit margin

Accounting / Bookkeeping                                                             18.4%a

Real estate sales                                                                                15.2%

Lawyer’s office                                                                                   14.5%

Dentist’s office                                                                                  14.4%

Landlords                                                                                             14%

Health practioners (chiropractors, etc)                                      13.3%

Physican’s office                                                                                13%

Business or technical consulting                                                   12%

Graphic and industrial design                                                         11.4%

Administrative services (billing, etc.)                                           11.3%

Architectural / structural engineering services                          11%

Real estate oproperty services (landscaping,cleaning, etc.).  10.1%

 

 

Freelancer Fails You Must Avoid

Life is a gamble and there are no guarantees. Making one’s living as a Freelance consultant adds an extra measure of unpredictability. Do whatever you can to control that which you can control and lay the groundwork for success in your consultancy.  As they say, don’t shoot yourself in the foot. You will see that most of what you must do right hinges on communication, in one form or another. Here are a few unfortunate practices that will bring down even the most professionally knowledgeable and well-connected consultant:

The service does not make sense

Or, it is poorly communicated and prospective clients don’t understand the service or how to make use of it. The ability to describe one’s services, help a prospective client picture how and when it might be useful to their organization and in the process persuade the prospect that the service is valuable and the Freelancer has the skill to deliver it is how business is created. Finding your sweet spot, defining your value proposition and communicating it well, are vital.

Sometimes, clients don’t know what they need, but they know that they need help. A serendipitous meeting with such an individual could mean a contract for you and perhaps the start of an ongoing business relationship. It is hugely important to be able to effectively communicate to prospects what you do, the problems you can solve or help them avoid and goals you can help them achieve. Doing this well makes you look like an expert who can be trusted. If the money and motive are there, you will be hired.

Poor follow-up or follow-through

Whether one is a Freelancer or traditionally employed, being reliable is a must. if you promise the client that something will be completed by a given date, then do that. Answer calls and emails ASAP, ideally on the same day and most certainly within 24 hours. Even if the client has not asked a question, anticipate what information will reinforce their confidence in and confirm that you are in control and meeting expectations by checking-in and giving periodic updates. Timely communication is reassuring.

Inadequate business development

Freelance consultants are always looking for the next assignment and that may mean helping a current or past client to create that assignment. During your project work, look for additional services you might provide, while their checkbook is open. Take a past client out for coffee and see if you can get back in there, weaving in your objective as you talk about how they’re doing.

Too shy to ask for referrals

Every business needs referrals and word-of-mouth endorsements from a source perceived as trustworthy are the best. The process of obtaining a referral starts with you providing excellent service that exceeds client expectations. Timing is also a factor. Asking for a referral while on the job and definitely not while you’re presenting the final invoice, is the preferred strategy.

Making a referral for the client, either while you’re on assignment or after the fact, will make you golden and increase the chances that the favor will be repaid, if the client knows a colleague who may need your services. Knowledge of the client’s business relationships can help you to tease out a referral. If you know that the client is active in a particular business or professional association and there is a prospect in the group that you would like to meet and try to work with, tell the client that you would appreciate an introduction.

Poor billing practices

If you want to get paid, you must invoice. On some projects, it’s wise to tell the client when you will invoice. If you do so, follow the agreed-upon schedule. Late invoices annoy clients and adversely impact your cash flow and financial management as well. Always describe or itemize the services delivered in your invoice. Specify how the check should be made out, include the tax identification number,  the invoice due date and the address to which the check should be sent.

Inadequate client relationship management

Freelancers need repeat business and that means nurturing relationships is a priority. Do what can be reasonably done to keep communicating with past clients.  Definitely, send December holiday cards to all those with whom you’ve worked in the past 5 years. If you encounter an article that you suspect will be of interest to a former or current client, send an email with the link, along with a friendly message. If a past client is speaking somewhere and you can afford the time and money to attend, do so. Take notes, so that you can ask a question that will make your client look good. Attention spans are short, so it is necessary to stay on the client’s radar screen if you expect to be hired again.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

High Impact Brand Appeal

Business researcher, businesswoman and author Wendy Lipton-Dibner is a highly successful woman who has led highly successful enterprises and has made lots of money by not focusing on money. Yes, that is correct. This brave iconoclast says that the right product or service and a business model that is not quite like what they teach in business school, is the blueprint for building a long-lasting and lucrative business venture and she has the data to prove her claim.

Lipton-Dibner studied 1000+ organizations that covered a wide spectrum: global, small business, for-profit and not-for-profit. She has also operated several business enterprises herself. What her research revealed runs counter to the holy grail of business management, which is 100% focus on generating profit. From product development to customer service, it is taken as gospel that minimizing costs and maximizing sales are the things to do and every aspect of a business must be aligned around the singular goal of making money.

Yet Lipton-Dibner discovered that the most successful and long-lived companies are those that “make a difference” in the lives of their customers. Think of the distinctive, sometimes revolutionary experiences created by Disney, Ford Motor Company, Microsoft, Hermes and Whole Foods Markets. Each of those companies offers products or services designed to help their customers lead more fulfilling, efficient, productive, healthier and/or enjoyable lives. She asserts that there are two types of business enterprises: those that focus on making money and those that focus on making a measurable impact on people’s lives and it is the latter approach that makes the most money.

Ethical growth strategies that position the company to make a positive impact on the lives of customers reap the most success, especially over the long-term. So how can a Freelancer or small business owner integrate this philosophy into his/her operation? As always, everything begins with the customer.

Ask current and prospective customers how your product or service and its delivery mechanism might be adjusted in ways that would make it more user-friendly. Can you design and deliver the ideal customer experience from start to finish and make those who do business with you so happy that they’ll tell co-workers and colleagues, who may eventually become your customers as well? That is the power of your brand appeal and impact.

As you make the changes that will give your customers The Best Experience Ever, you may find that certain adjustments in your business model, operations processes, quality control, or service offerings may need updating and that is to be expected. You’ll also learn how to refine your marketing messages and sales strategy along the way, because you will be much more tuned-in to what resonates with your customers, promoting trust in what you do and making customers happy to do business with you.

Wise fiscal management of your enterprise will continue to be a requirement, but centering your strategies and actions on  the pursuit of the biggest profit margin and net profit often does not pay off in the end. Finding the balance between what it takes to gain and keep customer loyalty and the necessity of sustaining a money-making enterprise is the road to success.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Achieving Objectives: Obstacles to Overcome

Whether you are building an architecture, accounting or law firm, financial services, or business consulting practice, going it alone as a Freelance consultant is fraught with challenges for all but the most well-connected. Let’s take a look at a few of the biggest obstacles that trip up those of us who’ve founded our own consulting shop.

Obstacle #1: You don’t own a business, you own your job

Eight out of ten consulting businesses never expand beyond the core services provided by the founder/principal. There may be administrative support staff, there may be occasional contract project-specific helpers, but these businesses are limited to the personal sales and production capacity of the founder/principal only. Typically, the founder is convinced that s/he cannot or should not bring in other talent to join in delivering the personally designed, boutique services to clients, a process that would make the operation scalable and capable of generating additional revenue.

Instead, if the founder/principal isn’t working, there are no billable hours, no accounts receivable and no revenue generated. Vacations are difficult to take, because they are financially risky. The founder pays twice: once for the vacation itself and a second time through lost revenue.  When the founder wants to retire, there will be no more money derived from the business. There’ll be no residual income harvested from decades of work done to research the market, decide the most marketable services to offer, identify the most logical clients to pursue, launch the venture, build a client list and develop a good reputation and brand. The doors will close and that is all.

Obstacle #2: Managing cash flow 

Let’s be brutally honest: many Freelance consultants do not have a truly dependable cash-cow revenue generator, regardless of the services provided. More often than any of us want to admit, we can drop a stitch when it comes to invoicing clients and that depresses our cash-flow. Too many accounts receivable may become past due and some will be difficult to collect. As a result, accounts payable may be late and interest charges may be incurred. Building up a capital reserve fund that can be used to help the business grow is therefore difficult.

Obstacle #3: Finding and keeping clients

Most Freelance consultants become founding principals of their own venture because we are respected experts of our core services, but many dislike sales and marketing. Others are too overwhelmed to keep up with the marketing plans they’ve designed.

As noted in Obstacle #1, if the founder/principal isn’t generating business and that means not only working on the in-house projects, but also networking to search for new business; identifying, if not creating, additional revenue streams; working in said revenue streams whenever possible; and trying to maintain good relationships with current clients, then none of it gets done. When new business is not created, slowdowns are likely to occur, along with gaps in income and cash-flow problems.

So what is the solution? Really, searching for a business partner who will join you would be most desirable, but that’s easier said than done. Partnerships are tricky to sustain. Hiring someone outright means that you have to make payroll every week. Is your consultancy generating that kind of reliable revenue?

There is no one answer because every consultancy is different. Founding principals of architecture, accounting, financial services and law firms may have an easier time than some other service providers — interior design or business consulting — because the former services are more “standardized” and less boutique- personal.

The latter typically guard clients jealously, because there are usually fewer of them. Sill, some cautious experimentation may be possible. The next time I hear about a project that is too big for me alone, I will think about who can help me and if I win the contract, evaluate that person for a partnership. Maybe the stars will align?

Thanks for reading,

Kim

How Much Free IP?

Absorbing your Intellectual Property, distributed free of charge by you through content marketing, is one way that potential new clients make their hiring decision. They are not sure if you are worth the investment represented by your fee for service, so a factor in the hiring decision is the perceived value of your free content. Does the prospect find it helpful and credible?

Your blog, newsletter, white paper, podcast or webinar demonstrate your authority and may help to convince a client who needs reassurance about your expertise.  A prospect who discovers your online content in theory could reach out and propose getting together for coffee, or scheduling a quick call to get some questions answered.  Or maybe you offer a free 30 or 60 minute consultation call as part of your services?  Either way,  remember that you are in business to get paid and giving away free advice does not necessarily lead to a contract.

Preserve the value of your IP

When you too often give away your expertise, the incentive to pay for it decreases. Scarcity and unique value must define your services.  You deliver the desired results and for that you are paid a premium price.

Establish boundaries because time is money

Your time and expertise are your most valuable resources and it is essential that you monitor their expenditure carefully. If you agree to speak with a potential client at no charge, do not allow the conversation to turn into a fishing expedition.  Answer two or three important questions and then let it be known that if more information is needed, an hourly rate will be instituted.

Gaining experience

If you are early in your Freelance consulting career, you must build a client list. If you have a new service that you’d like to test market, you will need exposure.  Selectively offer your services gratis, for a limited time.

Pricing

There are times when adding a free service upgrade is a way to maintain your pricing structure in the face of pressure to lower your fee.  The cosmetics industry does the very well when a free gift with purchase is offered to customers.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Less Than Zero Pricing Tactic

Psychology counts when pricing a product or service.  Take note that in every store,  the price of items always ends in .99,  .98,  or .95 and never .00.  Number psychology research has persuasively shown that buyers do not like zeros.  Stores do not sell items for $100.00,  they sell them for $99.95,  because customers associate zeros with premium prices that they’d rather not pay.

Furthermore,  the phenomenon called the left digit effect causes our brains to misinterpret that $99.95 as having a value closer to $99.00,  instead of $100.00.  Lindsay van Thoen,  columnist for The Freelancer’s Union,  says that our clients are like any other consumer and Freelance consultants should bear that in mind when pricing contract proposals.

When we are invited to submit a proposal,  we are all excited.  Here comes money!  The last thing we want to do is to wind up in a wrestling match with a client who wants to nickel and dime.  We take pains to itemize the major components of the project and provide the rationale for the total project fee.  Nevertheless,  haggling may ensue.  According to van Thoen,  Freelancers are wise to follow the lead of retailers,  cut the zeros from our proposals and make it easier for clients to agree to our price.  Resist the temptation to price your project at $5,000.00.  Instead,  price the project at $4825.00 or $5175.00.

Unfortunately,  clients sometimes feel that Freelance consultants pad price quotes,  even when an itemized accounting is provided.  A figure that does not appear to be rounded-off,  but appears to be specifically customized to the service requested and contains few zeros that may imply that we’ve  “rounded-up”  the fee,  can be more trust-inspiring and believable to certain clients.

Other ways to make it more palatable for clients to accept our proposals are to  1.) Ask the client for the project budget and work with them to provide services that you can afford to provide within that valuation and  2.) Provide three levels of service: good,  better and best,  so that clients can choose services according to needs and budget.

Pricing pundit Rafi Mohammed,  founder and CEO of the consulting firm Pricing for Profit in Cambridge, MA,  offers two valuable pieces of advice to keep in mind about pricing.  First,  prices must reflect the value that clients place on the service.  Second,  different clients place different value on a given service.  Offering  “good, better,  best”  options allows the client’s need for the service to be met in a way that is in line with the value placed.  A good pricing strategy is an important part of your marketing plan.  It sets the stage for building a profitable enterprise.  It is imperative to set prices that reflect the client’s value of what we sell and,  equally important,  to help the client perceive that listed prices are trustworthy.

Happy 4th of July!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

12 Sample Customer Survey Questions

In numerous posts over the years,  I’ve recommended that you conduct customer service surveys to guide your decision-making as you refresh your brand,  update your business model,  promote client retention,  stimulate referrals or initiate any other changes in your business practices.  Customer surveys can unearth all sorts of interesting and actionable data.  A dozen well-written questions can  give revealing insights into what drives the need for your services,  what persuades decision-makers to choose you instead of a competitor and customer expectations that may not be immediately apparent.  Surveys help you learn how your operation stacks up against the competition and can identify business strengths and weaknesses.

To give you inspiration,  I hereby provide a few sample questions.  Send your customer survey along with the final invoice of a project.  Include it on your website,  Facebook, Google + or LinkedIn page.  Announce it on your Twitter feed.

  1. What service did (the company) provide for you?
  2. What factors made you decide to hire (the company) for this project?
  3. Do you feel that your project contact/manager acted in your best interests and your organization’s?
  4. How closely did (the company) adhere to the agreed-upon project timeline?
  5. Do you feel that your project contact/manager responded to your requests for information and other inquiries in a timely fashion?
  6. Considering the value of this project to your organization,  how do you feel about the amount paid as compared to the value received?
  7. If you feel that you received poor value,  please describe the problem (s).  How do you feel about the process of providing resolution?
  8. Would you be willing to invite (the company) to work with you on another project?
  9. Are there additional services that you wish (the company) would provide?
  10. How often do you typically hire outside project-specific workers?
  11. Based on the experience of working with (the company) would you be willing to recommend to a friend or colleague?
  12. Do you have any suggestions for improving the services provided,  or related administrative matters?

Thank you for your feedback. Your honest opinions are sincerely appreciated.

A big part of growing a successful business is through referrals and repeat business.  Clients only return to you or recommend your services when they are extremely satisfied with your performance and have a high degree of confidence in your operation.  Your clients possess a wealth of information that may not only give you the opportunity to bring solutions to their problems and increase your revenues as a result,  but may also give you ideas about how you might attract new business.  The only way to access this information is to ask your clients and listen to their answers.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

What Business Are You Really In?

Every business starts with a proposal to deliver certain products or services to those would be their customers.  The business model encompasses operations processes,  sales distribution and early stage marketing messages.  But over time,  the business owner or marketing team must achieve a more sophisticated knowledge of target customers and use that understanding to advance from exclusively dwelling on the functional aspects of items sold and the obvious benefits.

Successful products or services become  “brands”  by marketing the intangible essence that is associated with what they sell.  Brands connect with an unspoken motive of the customer and promote reputation,  image and aspirations.  Luxury brands like Neiman Marcus,  Chanel and Jaguar sell the image of wealth and status.  Nike sells the image of the focused,  independent,  athletic ideal self.  Puma,  another athletic shoe company,  avoids the athletic angle and sells urban cool along with their sneakers and other apparel.  Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt  (1925 – 2006)  described this phenomenon and its implications in  “Marketing Myopia” ,  his seminal article that in 1960 appeared in the Harvard Business Review.

Brands rise above being mere purveyors of products and services,  otherwise known as commodities.   Getting a handle on the  “je ne sais quoi”  unspoken  mission of your products or services as perceived by customers is the only way to achieve break-out success.  Delivering high-quality products and services via the optimal business model is how to build a following and earn a good reputation.  Being known as trustworthy and dependable are integral elements of building a brand.  But it is only the beginning.  Consider this: a film studio does not function to merely make and promote movies.  A film studio’s real business is entertainment.

So let’s figure out how to learn what business you are really in.  Why not start by teasing out the motives for doing business with you rather than a competitor?  Were you lucky or well-connected enough to persuade a powerful person to do business with you?  Does the coolest kid in class wear the clothing you sell?  The recommendations of thought leaders and other trusted sources are worth their weight in gold.  If a VIP gives you an assignment,  others will want to emulate that VIP and do business with you,  too.  Overwhelmingly,  people are followers and want to be seen where the  “in” crowd goes.

Keep that tendency in mind as you peel back another layer and decode the self-identity of your target customer and the image that your archetypal customer wants to project.  Get your arms around the social or professional impact of your products or services.  Who do your customers aspire to be,  whom do they emulate or identify with?  What is the underlying purpose of your product or service?

When you can decipher and describe the above,  you will discover the business you are really in.   Apply that knowledge and create marketing messages that resonate;  advertising choices that deliver the desired ROI;  design product packaging that customers respond to;  institute a pricing strategy that reflects the perceived value of your products and services;  and write a tag line that reflects the self-image,  aspirations and/or unspoken motives of your archetypal customers.

FYI here is a 1975 version of Theodore Levitt’s classic article  “Marketing Myopia”  http://www.sitesuite.com.au/files/marketingmyopia.pdf

Thanks for reading,

Kim