This is not the post I originally planned to write. No, this is a cautionary tale.
My original plan was to talk about website mistakes that are pretty easy fixes: implementing a way to capture leads, providing a clear path to work with you or buy your stuff, creating a home page that orients your website visitors to who you are and what you have to offer, and so on.
And while all those things are important, they don’t come first. Not by a longshot.
In fact, those easy fixes won’t be effective for getting clients at all unless you do the more important work I’m going to talk about here first. The kind of work that requires time and effort, but pays enormous dividends in the way of marketing clarity.
And marketing clarity is like gold, because once you have it, you’ll be able to captivate your ideal clients, get them interested enough to stick around and read your content/view your portfolio/sign up for your newsletter, and eventually, reach out to buy your thing or find out more about working with you.
The cost of not taking care of this work up front is lots of wheel spinning in your business. You’ll write and market and make videos and be all over social media, working yourself to a frazzle, yet you won’t gain much traction, your website won’t convert browsers into email subscribers or clients, and you won’t get the kind of client inquiries you want. Plus? You’ll be exhausted.
And many of the clients you do get will be price shoppers, pita (pain-in-the-*ss) clients, and other assorted just plain “wrong” clients. The kind of clients and projects that will wear you down and make you think that you might, you just might, be ready to quit your creative biz and go get a j-o-b.
But stick with me here, because we certainly DO NOT want that, do we?
For over a year I made these mistakes, which seriously impeded my ability to attract the right kind of clients and make myself some folding money, as we like to say here in the South.
Because I didn’t do the foundational work that would have set me up for success, my business languished. (To lay all my cards on the table, it’s not picture-perfect now, but I’m supporting myself doing about 25 hours of client work per week, I’m getting more client inquiries from the kind of clients I want to work with, and I’m getting more targeted email subscribers.)
So if you want to save yourself months of struggle and overwhelm, let my story be a lesson.
My Big Mistake (Wait, make that three big mistakes)
#1: I didn’t know who my ideal client/target audience was and what they struggled with, #2: I wasn’t expressing how I was different from others who offered a similar product or service, and #3: I wasn’t making an emotional connection with my ideal clients. (And you have to do the first two to be able to pull off the third).
Ironically, this is the very kind of work I help clients with when writing their copy, but hadn’t done for myself in the same focused, structured way until a few months ago.
When I first launched my copywriter’s website (which in the beginning also covered social media and other assorted online marketing topics), I was trying to be all things to all people, and instead wound up being nothing to no one. Harsh but true.
Because I hadn’t figured out these core elements, my site and my services were generic, run-of-the-mill, lackluster, boring, wildly untargeted, and lacking in personality or emotional connection to the audience I truly wanted to serve.
Want to know what that looked like day to day?
Exhaustion. Struggle. Overwhelm.
Since I wasn’t focused on a narrowly defined audience looking for a specific solution, I was free to write blog posts and weekly newsletters about every topic under the sun I could think of to do with marketing online – social media tips, blogging tips, content creation ideas, web marketing, productivity hacks, copywriting, and so on and so forth.
And because of the vast sea of topics I could write about in those categories, I was overwhelmed by what I actually should write about. So I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. About many different topics. Email newsletters and blog posts and social media updates galore, yet the needle was hardly moving.
Every week the same thing – sign into Aweber, upload the newsletter for the week, check subscriber count, become disappointed, get despondent, say out loud no one, “This isn’t working! Grrrrr!!”
Then go hard at it again – blog some more, write more email newsletters, be even more active on social media, and still . . . mostly crickets. Thank goodness I had enough client work to squeak by and keep the lights on, because if I’d had to depend on my website for quality leads and ideal client projects during that time, I would have had to move into my Jeep.
What I Did Next – The Ideal Customer Avatar
In the early months of 2013, I spent several weeks figuring out precisely who I wanted to serve and what they struggle with, how I was uniquely positioned to serve them, and how I was different from other copywriters who offered similar services.
I did this using good old fashioned brainstorming, loads of research, and exercises from two courses I was taking at the time – Marie Forleo’s B-School, and courses inside Fizzle.co: Honest Online Business Training. To be clear, the brainstorming and research I did on my own was hugely helpful to figuring out who my ideal clients were and how to best serve them, but taking these two online business trainings dialed the process up many notches.
Once I determined who my Ideal Customer Avatar (ICA) was (you can call this person your ideal client, your perfect customer, your target audience, or whatever else makes sense to you), what I would write about in blog posts, email newsletters, social media updates, and every other piece of content I would produce instantly became much clearer.
What a huge relief! It was like the boulder I’d been pushing up the hill evaporated, just like that.
Unless you get your right person/ideal client figured out, marketing clarity will elude you and you will struggle to connect with your perfect people online. You won’t know how to talk to that person or how to help them with their challenges. It’s like standing on a street corner and shouting at random passersby about your thing – no one cares.
So how did I figure out this ideal person I’m meant to serve and precisely what they struggle with?
At the outset I knew I wanted to serve other creative freelancers, solopreneurs and small biz owners who sell a creative product or service, so I figured out where they hung out online and stalked them there. What I was after was information on the top 2 or 3 thing they struggle with most, in their own words. (This is an iterative process, so I’m always adding data to my “ideal audience” research document. You’ll want to do the same.)
So I read blogs. I spent time in forums. I spent time on sites of people who already have the audience I want to serve and paid attention to the dialogue there. I did keyword research. I polled friends who are in my target audience. I spent time trolling through the places on Twitter and Facebook where creatives hang out.
[I won’t go into detail about the process here, because in part 2 of this 3-part series to be published next week, I’ll deconstruct exactly how I did this and demonstrate the process I used to come up with my Ideal Client Avatar. There will be a handy checklist for you to download so you can do the same.]
And then after that came . . . Differentiation, or The Unique Selling Proposition
Next, I determined my unique selling proposition, or unique value proposition, which is really just a fancy-schmancy way of saying I nailed down the collection of factors that would make someone in my target audience want to do business with me instead of other copywriters or web marketers who offer a similar service. (Once I determined who my ideal client avatar was, this became much easier.)
It’s unlikely that your product or service is unique in and of itself, so figuring out what makes you different – whether this is your process, your personality, your backstory, your specialization, your target audience, or all of the above – and conveying that in your online marketing will give you a competitive edge.
If you’ve spent any amount of time online, you know how important this is, especially as a provider of creative products or services. I always use the example of wedding photographers, because it’s such an apt one.
If you Google wedding photographers, even in the small town where I live, thousands and thousands of results come up. Yet all these sites are virtually the same: beautiful photo galleries, a little bit of contact info, and maybe a blog. Except for the name of the business, I couldn’t tell one from the other if my life depended on it. If I were a bride searching for someone to document the very most important day of my life, I’d be completely hamstrung about who to even contact for further info.
This is how you get price-shopped, by the way. If your site and your services and your business looks just like everyone else’s, the only thing potential clients have to go on to differentiate you is your price. So they look at your price, then they look at the next person’s, and they choose the least expensive option. Effective differentiation can help solve this problem.
“In the absence of a meaningful difference, the cheapest brand may be regarded as the best choice. Lack of differentiation turns brands into commodities and marketing messages into white noise. But a meaningful difference can spark consumer interest and fuel demand for a brand, even when that brand carries a significant price premium.” ~Nigel Hollis
How did I figure out my USP?
Good old-fashioned Google research started the process – I looked at lots of other copywriter websites and made notes about the similarities I saw. Lots of notes. I brainstormed how I could differentiate myself in several categories based on what I found in the research – what did most copywriter websites look like, and how could I make site look and feel different? What services did other copywriters offer, and what could I do to distinguish mine? What copy needs did the clients I wanted to serve have that other copywriters weren’t meeting? What about my backstory or personality was relevant to my service offerings, and how could I incorporate those elements into my business to stand out?
That was my initial approach, then I honed in on specifics among those categories and several others, until I chose a mix of things that worked for me.
Like one of my favorite marketers, Derek Halpern, says, “It’s not about finding unique ingredients, it’s about finding a unique recipe.” None of the things I do is unique in and of itself, but the combination of my offerings, personality & style, and backstory is.
[Again, I won’t go into detail here, because in part 3 of this 3-part series, I’ll deconstruct exactly how I did this and demonstrate the process I used to come up with my USP. There will be a handy checklist for you to download so you can do the same.]
Results So Far
It’s early days for me – I want to be straight up about that. Although I help clients hone in on their ideal customers and unique selling proposition so that the copy I write for them is targeted and effective, I only just implemented the same process for myself recently. As I’m writing this, it’s been about two months since I implemented my ideal customer avatar and unique selling proposition work on my website.
The biggest and by far most beneficial change has been marketing clarity in who I’m serving and what they struggle with. Which means I know exactly what to write about on the blog and in the newsletter week after week after week, with no struggle and no stress. Once I figured out my ideal customer avatar and USP, I planned all my blog content and email newsletter topics for 6–8 months. Sweet relief! I probably added 5 years to my lifespan from stress reduction from that one activity alone.
I also got clarity in which service offerings to create, what kind of social media status updates to post, which potential products to develop, and which blogs to approach for guest posting opportunities. I knew exactly what kind of free opt-in offer to create. And so much more.
Doing this work has made an enormous difference to the satisfaction I now feel in my business – there’s joy, happiness and peace that didn’t exist before. I now get up every day energized and excited, eager to get to work because I know what to do each day, who I’m serving, and how to best serve them.
Everything that was once a chore now feels like a breeze.
I’ve also gotten more client inquiries and targeted email subscribers in the last two months than I got in in the entire 6 months previously. But that’s not the biggest benefit.
The biggest benefit of doing this important foundational work is that I no longer feel like I’m pushing a boulder uphill with a feather.
Maybe you can relate.
Figuring out your ideal customer avatar and unique selling proposition could be a full-on course all its own, so I’ve only hit on the high points here. In part 2 of this series next week, I’ll deconstruct how I came up with my ICA and how you can do the same, and talk about what to do with that information once you have it. (Hint: everything will become easier.) There will be a downloadable checklist you can use to do this for yourself.
Then in part 3 of the series, we’ll do exactly the same for differentiation/USP. And there will be a handy downloadable checklist.
If figuring out your ideal customer avatar and USP is something you still need to do for your own creative business, be sure to check out part 2 next week, and part 3 the following week.
Comments? Questions? Have you done this foundational work for your own creative biz yet? Please share in the comments section!