Have You Found Your Niche?

Let me tell you a story. It’s a story about me and my work, but I think you can find something valuable in it if you take a look.

 

The story begins back when I was first starting out as a freelance writer. To put it mildly, I didn’t know what I was doing. You know how it is, right? You read a couple articles, decide, “Now I know exactly what I’m going to do with my life!” and promptly walk over a cliff.

 

When you’re starting out as a freelance writer, you’re a lot like a lemming.

 

You see one person acting on a bad idea and you think, “Oh, that’s nice.”

 

You see another person acting on a bad idea and you think, “Well, that’s interesting. Maybe they’re onto something.”

 

But then you see every other freelance writer tripping over the crowd on the way to jump off a cliff and you start thinking, “Oh boy, I’m gonna get me a piece of this action!”

 

In other words, I was making all the rookie mistakes. Trawling job boards for lousy jobs for lousy clients. Pitching prospects who weren’t interested in hearing what I had to say. Writing lifeless blog posts that had all the right content but none of the personality that got people really interested.

 

In short, I was going with the flow. I was getting enough work to get by, but it wasn’t anything I could be proud of. I was working with clients who were okay at best.

 

I wasn’t working on the types of projects that really excited me.

 

I wasn’t being treated like a business owner offering a valuable service.

 

I wasn’t being paid the rates I knew I deserved or being taken with the kind of seriousness I expected.

To sum it up: I was following all the bad advice I heard and wondering why I didn’t have control of my sales and marketing process. I was following a reactive strategy where I expected to be given the work and paid well for it simply because I knew I was capable. It didn’t occur to me that the real problem was that my prospects didn’t know I was capable.

 

(Listen, I know how naïve that sounds, but we’ve all got to start somewhere, don’t we?)

 

I could beat myself up for barking up the wrong tree, but there’s really no point. Maybe I was acting like an idiot, but at least I didn’t know any better. The point is that I learned my lesson.

 

I started paying attention.

 

Specifically, I started paying close attention to what was going on with the feeds on the social media accounts I was using to promote myself. (See? I wasn’t a complete idiot. At least I knew I should be on social media!) The big ones here were LinkedIn and Twitter.

 

Especially LinkedIn. Especially LinkedIn.

 

Because as soon as I actually started looking at what I was seeing and thinking about what it meant, the answer became obvious.

 

I’d been working and working at something I vaguely thought of as “promoting myself” on social media, but I didn’t know what exactly I was promoting, to whom, or to what end I was doing it. The social media was just an on-the-side thing I had that came along with the perpetual hunt for clients on job boards.

 

I was aimless. I only had the vaguest idea of how I wanted to market my services. I didn’t even have a long-term goal to aim at, let alone some intermediate goals to use for measuring my progress.

 

Let’s put it bluntly: I didn’t have a niche.

 

But one day I saw a LinkedIn post that changed all that. I wish I would have saved it, because when I saw it I knew just what I had to do.

 

And what was this magnificent post? What was this life-changing post that made me realize how I needed to live my life from then on? What was this mind-bogglingly significant post that changed the entire course of my existence from that day forward?

 

It was just some guy complaining about recruiters on LinkedIn.

 

He had a story about how a recruiter on LinkedIn approached him about a position he wasn’t even remotely qualified for. Understandably, he was pretty annoyed because he had the feeling that the recruiter didn’t even take a minute to read his LinkedIn profile before tossing a generic pitch at him.

 

And apparently this was a common complaint. The post I was looking at had nearly 2,000 likes and probably over 100 comments. Apparently it was hitting a major nerve with LinkedIn users!

This was all news to me. I’m a dedicated freelancer, so for me the approach of a recruiter was something very rare indeed—and even when it did happen, 99% of the time the spam filter got rid of it before I even saw it.

 

So this was the first time I realized just how much recruiters use LinkedIn. (I know, I know, this makes me sound even more like some naïve chump, but I honestly never thought about it.) I’d always known about it in theory, but I’d been using LinkedIn mostly for networking and marketing my freelance services, so I didn’t think about it.

 

But when I saw this post, it was like the wires crossed in my mind and I realized exactly what I had to do. I realized LinkedIn was crawling with recruiters who were working on practically the same problem I was—and just like me, they were trying to solve it the wrong way.

 

I realized when I was sending generic pitches to people who weren’t interested in my work, I was doing the same thing these people were doing when they send job descriptions to people who aren’t even qualified. I knew exactly how it felt to be in their shoes.

 

Because whenever I was slow on freelance work, I knew I’d start getting desperate. I’d start flinging out low-quality pitches at random because I was anxious for something to stick. I’d make lousy pitches because I was so nervous and so anxious to get the whole process over with all at once that I’d end up sabotaging myself.

 

And that’s exactly what was going on with this post I found on LinkedIn that day. I realized there was some recruiter out there who wouldn’t get paid if she didn’t reel in the hire, and she was getting desperate. The way I imagined it, she was a 28-year-old woman named Veronica. She was a little neurotic, and she had nightmares every night about ending up on the street because she couldn’t cut the mustard as a recruiter. She could see her landlord smiling evilly and thinking about evicting her. Her stomach grumbled every day because she couldn’t afford food.

 

Worst of all, she had to cancel her Netflix membership.

 

With all that on her shoulders, it’s no wonder poor Veronica was making mistakes. She was so scared she started flinging out generic inquiries because she was so overwhelmed and so nervous and so panicky.

 

So when I read that LinkedIn post, I realized I couldn’t blame Veronica for doing something very like what I’ve done when I’ve been desperate. And I realized her story wasn’t unique. Who knows how many recruiters just like Veronica are out there on LinkedIn?

 

I realized she was facing the same kind of problem I’d been dealing with for my whole time as a freelancer: how do you get people to listen to your message?

 

I realized that, and that’s when I realized I’d just found my niche. I could put myself to work helping recruiting agencies get their message out.

 

I knew I could do it because I’d struggled with the same problem for such a long time. And I knew I should do it because I could feel that recruiter’s pain.

 

And that’s how I found my niche.

 

I could go on about how valuable it is to have a niche when you’re a freelancer—or any kind of business owner, really—but in all honesty this post is getting to be a little longer than I’d ever intended for it to be, so I’ll start winding down and save all that for next time.

 

But let me close with just a few words about niches. I know freelancers always hear about finding a niche, but it’s not until you find one that you really realize why that is.

 

A freelancer needs to start out with one niche for the same reason Amazon had to start out with one niche: selling books. You have to build a system that works for something before you can even think about building a system that works for everything. We underestimate how complicated things are, and we forget that we have to master one thing before we can ever master a whole range of things.

 

If I leave you with one thing, I hope it’s this: that while finding a niche may feel like you’re limiting yourself, it’s actually the best way to growth, both in business and in life. It may feel like you’re giving up your potential if you limit yourself to one thing, and in a way that’s true. But until you approach one niche with enough seriousness to truly master it, you’ll never master anything.

 

So: what’s your niche?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

How to Build Your Email List

Used correctly, email can be an amazing sales tool. Even in the social media age, email selling is the standard by which all digital marketing is judged.

 

If you’re new to digital marketing, it can be hard to tell where to start with your email selling. And with so much information out there on the subject, it can be hard to tell where to start!

 

Never fear. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do with this blog post: I’m going to come up with a short guide to how you can leverage your online presence into effective email selling that helps you to improve your service and learn about your ideal customers all at once.

 

Of course, I don’t want to hype this up too much. Email selling has been around a while, and it’s definitely not a quick fix method. But if you’re willing to put in the time and the effort to get a good email campaign going, you can turn this into a highly effective tool for driving sales.

 

So as you keep on reading I’ll let you know exactly how to leverage your website into an effective selling tool.

 

Build Traffic with Social Media

Naturally, this whole thing isn’t going to get off the ground until you get some traffic to your website. And while there are many ways to do that, we’re going to focus on social media here.

 

Social media is an indispensable tool for digital marketing. It’s often the first point of contact between you and the people you’re meant to serve.

 

With your social media efforts you’ve got two things you’re most interested in: driving traffic to your site and making connections with prospects and other networkers.

 

Now, this article isn’t about social media marketing, but the point here is that an effective social media strategy will drive plenty of traffic to your site. So you want to be visible on social media. You want to be posting, commenting, and engaging with people. Actively.

 

Of course, I can’t tell you exactly how you should do that. The thing about social media is that you’ve got to develop your own style. If you’re doing it the same way everybody else does it, you might as well not even be doing it.

 

All I can tell you for sure is that you should commit to at least posting once per day on every site you or your organization is on. That will force you to develop your own unique approach.

 

Attract Prospects to Your Site with Quality Content

But what’s the point of having the social media in the first place if you’re not driving traffic back to your site? And how are you going to drive traffic back to your site unless you’ve got some great content to show your followers?

 

Welcome to the wonderful world of content marketing.

 

So what’s content marketing? Well, the short answer is that it’s informational content on your site that attracts readers (or viewers, or listeners) and gives them useful information.

 

Blog posts. Videos. Podcasts. How-to articles. Ebooks. All of that is content marketing.

 

Let’s assume you’re using blog posts. You want to drive your ideal prospects to your site. How do you do that?

 

Well, you write content that matches what your prospects need to see when they’re ready to buy from you. You educate them about what they need to know in order to understand your offer and what it can do for them.

 

The best part of this strategy is that web content lasts a long time. With a solid posting schedule and a good content strategy, you can turn a small site into an authority site and a recognized thought leader in your industry.

 

Build Your List with Gated Content

So you’ve got your traffic flowing into your site with your content. Now what?

 

Now you want to convince those visitors that it’s worth their while to send you their email addresses. You want to open up that flow of communication and foster that relationship.

 

How do you do that? Gated content, of course!

 

Gated content is content that your prospect can only access after they’ve performed some action. It could be signing up for an account, subscribing for email updates, or any one of a million possible things. In this case we’re assuming you’re offering them something in return for their email address and permission to contact them.

 

So what do you offer them? It’s got to be something your ideal prospect would want, and which will help educate them about the value of your offer. My personal favorite kind of gated content is an eBook lead magnet. It could be a how-to guide or a valuable bit of data.

 

If you use a how-to guide, stick to a subject your prospect will be interested in. Let them know how to do something they’d like to be able to do on their own (even if you and I both know they should go ahead and hire you if they want the best results).

 

And After That?

Once you’ve got your lead magnet ready and got it building your list, you need to start sending out emails. This is another thing where you’re going to have to work out your own plans. At the very least, you should reach out to your email lists once every month. (If you contact them less than that, some of your subscribers might start to forget who you are, and unsubscribe just as soon as they see your emails.)

 

Try not to be too salesy with your emails. Unless you want to be. It’s important to find an approach that works for you and go with it. I’ve seen some people go as shamelessly salesy as it’s possible to be, and I’ve seen some people run their email marketing in a much more subtle way. It depends on your style.

 

The prospects you’re meant to find are the kind of people who will appreciate your style. So feel free to experiment until you find the voice that works. When it does, you’ll know.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

How to Set Up Your Lead Magnet

You’ve got your content marketing up and running. You’ve got a steady stream of visitors coming to your site. You’ve got a pretty steady clip of blog comments piling up.

 

But there’s a problem.

 

Your conversion rates are way too low. You’ve got oodles of visitors coming to your site, but they’re not buying. Sure, maybe a few of them are getting in touch with you, but it’s not enough. You’ve got to crank up those numbers.

 

No worries though: this is where you make a lead magnet. If you already know about lead magnets, this is old stuff to you. If not, let me set the stage.

 

First off: the real action in selling online doesn’t come from your site. It comes from your email list. So you need to be able to build that email list.

 

But of course there’s a problem here, and it’s pretty obvious: people don’t love giving out their email addresses online, and they’re going to want something valuable in exchange. That’s where your lead magnet comes in.

 

So what is the lead magnet? A lead magnet is whatever you offer your prospects in exchange for their contact information.

 

It could be an eBook, a free trial period, or a free 30-minute consultation. It could be any of a wide variety of things. The point is that it’s something valuable that you’re giving away to your prospects.

 

Why use a lead magnet?

  • It leverages reciprocity. You give your prospects something valuable and they’ll be disposed to exchange value with you.
  • It establishes your authority with the prospect. This way, you don’t have to tell them you know what you’re talking about. You show them.
  • It allows you to educate your prospect on the value of your products and services without the whole drama and angst of a sales presentation.
  • But most importantly: it incentivizes your prospects to give you their email addresses.

 

A good lead magnet is part sales document and part educational piece. Writing a good lead magnet can take significant time and effort, but the results are well worth the investment.

 

Just like content marketing, some companies prefer to outsource the work to skilled professionals who have demonstrated an ability in the field. But if you’d like to have a crack at it yourself, I’ve got some steps together that you can follow in prepping your lead magnet.

 

Choose Your Topic

I’m a writer, so I’m going to assume we’re going with some kind of written informational lead magnet. This isn’t the only kind of lead magnet you could consider, but it’s the one I’ve got the most expertise and understanding in, so we’ll go with it.

 

(Just in case you’re interested, some other types of lead magnets include free trial offers, access to market information, etc.)

 

One of the classics of the lead magnet genre is the how-to guide. This is pretty intuitive, since it’s just an eBook guide that tells your prospect how to get something done.

 

Ideally, your how-to guide will be about something your prospect could do if they had the time or energy, but that it’s easier for them to hire your organization to do for them. (This is part of the underlying sales message of your lead magnet.)

 

More than likely, you’ve already got a pretty clear idea of what a good lead magnet topic would be for your organization. If not, take a minute and think of some problems your organization solves for clients who could take care of the problem for themselves, at the cost of some major inefficiency.

 

It shouldn’t take you long to think of something.

 

Write and Produce Your Lead Magnet

When you’re writing your lead magnet, remember it’s supposed to do three things:

  1. Add value to the prospect.
  2. Educate your prospect about your products or services.
  3. Incentivize the prospect to give you their contact information.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but this point is important: the lead magnet isn’t primarily a sales tool, but you want your prospect to finish reading with the distinct impression that they could do the thing, but it would be better to adopt your professional services.

 

You don’t necessarily want to sell them immediately, but you want them to at least imagine buying from you.

 

But that’s not the main goal. The main goal is to give the prospect something valuable, so he or she will be more disposed to open your sales emails and do business with you later on.

 

That means you want to give good information, for one thing. And for another thing, you want the copy in your lead magnet to be well-written and conversational enough that the prospect will actually want to read the thing.

 

You’re asking for your prospect’s time and attention here, and that’s the most valuable commodity they have. That means your lead magnet had better be good enough to deserve that attention.

 

Set Up Your Email List

Now that you’ve got your lead magnet produced, you want to get it up on your site where it can do you some good. If you haven’t already done so, this is the time to get your email list up and running.

 

Your email list is going to be the most valuable sales tool in your digital marketing efforts. It’s going to give you the chance to educate your prospects on your offerings and gradually dial in on their needs and desires.

 

That’s why you’re going to want an opt-in screen that’s optimized to generate as many opt-ins as possible. You want to make sure your prospect has a real incentive to give you his or her email address and open up the lines of communication.

 

You’re going to want to run your email list through a batch email service such as Mailchimp. Mailchimp is usually a good idea for new email marketers, because it has a free option and allows the service to grow with your list.

 

We’ll talk about this in more depth some other time, but you’re going to want to make sure to optimize your opt-in and rigorously iterate your sales emails on a long-term basis. (These are serious issues, but unfortunately they take us pretty far afield from this blog post.)

 

The important thing is that you realize email marketing is a serious commitment and it’s something that will take a lot of adjustment, especially at the beginning.

 

Conclusion

Your lead magnet is the first crucial link in the chain leading your website’s visitors from their first visit to the day they become customers or clients. The idea is simple, but the execution can vary incredibly.

 

Some lead magnets are brilliant pieces of writing. They’re funny, thoughtful, informative, and a joy to read. Those are the lead magnets that build goodwill with the prospect and dispose him or her to open your emails when they show up in the inbox.

 

Some lead magnets are awful, boring, predictable things with confusing language and useless information. They’re the kind of thing that make a prospect want to unsubscribe from your list as soon as possible.

 

Remember that when you’re putting together your lead magnet. This is one of the first points of contact a prospect will have with your brand.

 

What kind of first impression do you want to make?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

How Do You Motivate Yourself?

 

People are always asking me, “Geofrey, how do you keep yourself productive when your motivation’s shot?”

 

It’s a good question. Now, I know, you’re probably expecting me to say something about how it’s just an excuse to say “I don’t have the motivation,” but I’m not going to say that.

 

Motivation is an important problem.

 

Because let’s face it: if you’re not motivated, you’re not going anywhere.

 

It can be tough to keep motivated when you’ve been trying and trying, but nothing seems to work. It can be tough to keep motivated when you keep chipping away at your problems, but you can’t seem to make any progress.

 

I’ll be honest with you: motivation isn’t easy. But I’ve got a simple answer for you.

 

Now listen: I want you to take a pen and write some stuff down.

 

First, I want you to write a little bit about how you’ll feel once you reach your long-term goals. It doesn’t have to be long. Just take ten minutes or so and write a paragraph or two about how things will be once you break through.

 

And second, I want you to write about how bad it will be if you don’t reach that long-term goal. I want you to imagine how terrible you’ll feel if you wake up one morning and realize you’re a complete and utter failure.

 

Be detailed with both of these! Imagine it in detail, and I’ll promise you you’ll feel much more motivated.

 

Let yourself go with this. Get creative. Remember: the more detail you go into, the stronger the effect is going to be.

 

And once you’re done, let me know about your results. What does success look like for you? What does failure look like?

 

And most importantly: are you feeling motivated now?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

How Does Your Business *Really* Work?

 

Your business needs help. What to do about it?

 

Start by debugging the system. Now, how do you do that?

 

Simple. You figure out how your business really works.

 

You’re probably wondering why I emphasize the word “really” quite so much. It’s because you’ve probably got a paper model of how your business works already.

 

It’s nice. It’s lovely. It’s got a nice flow chart, with marketing flowing into sales, sales going into production, and all the little aspects of your business clearly organized together.

 

Now, it’s good that you have that paper model. It’s good that you’ve got an idea of how all the pieces should fit together, and how your business ought to flow. But that’s not enough.

 

What is enough?

 

It’s enough to learn how the system really works. It’s enough to learn where the flow is backed up. It’s enough to learn what you can do to get the system working the way it should.

 

Ideally, your business should flow as cleanly and as flawlessly as an electric current. Granted, you’ll never get it working to quite that degree of perfection, but it’s always good to set your sights high.

 

Who was it who said shooting for the stars is the best way to make sure you don’t end up with a couple handfuls of mud?

 

I can’t remember. But it’s a true sentiment.

 

Systems thinking is a great way for you to figure out how your business can be improved. It gets your ideas together and gives you a way to identify problems before they get too bad.

 

It’s worth a try.

 

So, have you tried systems thinking before? What kind of results have you gotten?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

How Routines Can Help You Stay Sane

Maybe it’s better to write about routines on Monday than it is on Friday, but here goes…

 

I’m sure you’ve all had the experience of going into panic mode because you’ve got something huge that needs to get done todayWe’ve all been guilty of putting things off longer than we should.

 

You sit down to work, and you realize this is a bigger project than you thought.

 

Then your heart starts pounding.

 

Then your hands start to sweat.

 

You keep looking at the clock.

 

It’s a terrible feeling. Anxiety shoots down the back of your spine, and you feel it in the back of your head.

 

And what caused it? Usually it’s procrastination.

 

Back when the Puritans were first settling this country, they knew how bad procrastination can be.

 

Seriously. Go take a look at the sermons of Jonathon Edwards. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and all that. He’ll tell you exactly what a heinous sin procrastination can be.

 

As well he should have! They were settling a new society in the wilderness. Do you think they had time to spare?

 

(Seriously, go check out Jonathon Edwards if you’re ever feeling unproductive. Better motivation than Tim Ferris and Tony Robbins put together!)

 

Anyways: the question is how do you fight procrastination?

 

The answer: habit and planning, ladies and gentlemen. Habit and planning.

 

Habit is good. Planning is good. But if you manage to make a habit out of planning, you’ve got a winning combination!

 

Granted, it sounds a little boring and old-fashioned. I remember the days when I’d hear talk like that and imagine some old grandpa wagging his finger at me disapprovingly.

 

But (and I know what an old cliche this is) Rome wasn’t built in a day. Every major accomplishment takes major effort and planning.

 

With routines and planning, you can manage to project your efforts through time. That’s how you get it all done.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail