I can get really nervous around brides to be.
I have a lot of thinking about the time, energy, and expense involved in planning a wedding. Some of that is my stuff. Some comes from seeing good people transformed into bridezillas by attachment to their visions of the perfect day.
In their innocent preoccupation with ideals of love, grace, and beauty, they can become disconnected from the feeling behind it all. When that happens, their well laid plans and the need to have those plans unfold exactly as designed drives them and the people around them nuts.
The same thing can happen in your business. (more…)
Why do some businesses survive in tough economic times while others fail?
One explanation is that people always necessities, like groceries, but not luxuries, like diamond rings or massage. But that isn’t necessarily the case.
Still, if you look around you, you’ll see tons of evidence that people continue to invest in discretionary goods and services even when money is tight. (more…)
A while back I wrote that it’s essential to know what your clients want from their point of view. I said that it’s not “Do what you love, and the money will follow,” but “Do what you love and what serves others, and the money will follow.” (You’ll find the earlier post here).
Several readers wrote to ask how to get clients to tell you what they want. What do you ask them? How do you ask? What do you do when you ask them, and no one responds?
Here’s my answer, and it’s one of the most important keys to getting clients.
It begins with a conversation
The first first thing to understand is that finding out what clients want involves a conversation, an exchange. And the first requirement for a meaningful conversation is for you to be 100% present.
That’s not always easy when your business is at stake. Even though you believe in your work, and it is ultimately of service to your prospective clients, you may feel uncomfortable asking them for information that will help you to market and sell more to them effectively.
So I teach clients to begin by getting into their Personal Safety Zones.
Create a zone of safety and respect
Your Personal Safety Zone is a conscious sense of personal space in which you center and ground yourself.
One way into your Personal Safety Zone is to bring your awareness into your body. Breathe into your abdomen and, when you exhale, expel as much air as you can. Repeat this for three breaths. Surrender to gravity, allowing your weight to settle until you are aware of the soles of your feet on the ground beneath you. Invite your body to show you how it feels to be perfectly centered, grounded, and safe.
Take a few moments to feel that.
Practice getting into your Personal Safety Zone in all kinds of situations until it becomes second nature, and you can do it in a moment. Then, use it whenever you talk about your work.
When you feel safe, you put others at ease
When you feel safe, people naturally feel safe in your presence. There is room in the conversation for them to be exactly as they are.
This is especially important in conversations with clients or prospective clients. As you show up naturally and with peaceful confidence, the person you speak with feels comfortable. There is no need for either of you to contract or defend.
Have a one-on-one intentional conversation
A successful conversation about what a client wants happens intentionally and one-on-one. Schedule a specific time and place for the conversation, and be clear about the purpose.
It can be scary to ask for such a conversation! So practice your Personal Safety Zone. Throughout the process of learning what clients want, you will find that returning to your Personal Safety Zone is the key to success on many levels.
As for what to say when setting up the conversation, be simple and direct. “I’d like to understand what it’s like for you to…. May I have 30 minutes of your time to talk about that?” (Fill in the blank with the problem or need the client has.)
Set a date to speak by phone, Skype, or in person. Email and surveys don’t work for this kind of conversation. They aren’t personal enough, and they don’t allow you to get beneath the surface.
Take the time to get under the surface
Most conversations start on the surface. People naturally want to please you, and, in the beginning, they tend to say what they think you want them to say.You can help the client move past this phase by gently redirecting the focus to their experience. Repeat that you’re truly interested in what it is like for them to have this problem, desire, or need. Ask them questions that take them deeper.
As you continue to ask respectful, probing questions that shift the focus to what the client experiences from inside their problem, the client’s answers will become more spontaneous. Your client will express more emotion and will tend to use less formal language.
This is exactly what you are looking for. Not a neat and clean global description of a problem, but an in-the-trenches report of what it is like for your client to have a pressing challenge or urgent desire.
At this point, your client (or prospective client) is telling you exactly what you need to know. To make sure you get it, listen literally. That means listening to the precise words and phrases (and intonations) that your just-right clients use to talk about the world from their perspective.
That sounds simple, and it is, in principle. But when you are deeply immersed in your work and listening to a client who is talking about the things your work is designed to address, you tend to hear through the filter of your experience.
This is why it’s important to capture the conversation as exactly as possible, which is what we’ll talk about next.
Capture the conversation
Every word from your client’s lips is golden, so capture the conversation in as much detail as you can. Recording the conversation (with the other person’s permission) is ideal. Taking notes is another way to capture what is said.
Whether you take notes or use a recording, you’ll be going back to the conversation time and again to steep yourself in your client’s point of view and language. Capturing the exact words and phrases the client uses will be immensely helpful when it comes to describing what you do, making people aware of what you do, and making it safe and easy for them to hire you.
Allow problems to go unsolved
Problems are, well, problems. And we generally prefer not to hang out in the problem space, especially if we are trying to make a good impression on someone. But a conversation with a client about what they want is not a problem-solving conversation. What may sound like a cry for help is often a cry to be heard. If you rush to solve the problem, you miss the point.
It will be easier to let go of the pressure to problem solve when you remember your Personal Safety Zone. Remind yourself that your client is a whole person. Detach from the impulse to fix things and tune into the work of connecting.
If you are truly focused on connecting from your Personal Safety Zone you will be able to hear your just-right client without being swamped by the problem or distracted by rushing to a solution.
That’s how to find out what clients really want.
Photo by Kibondo via Flickr
Sometimes it seems best to stick to the facts when you talk about your work.
You need to promote it, but you don’t want to seem sales-y, so you just state the facts on your flier, in your email, or on your Web site.
Someone asks about your work, and you keep the conversation as brief and unemotional as you possibly can, so you don’t seem to be tooting your own horn.
Or you sit down to write a Web page, and your mind goes utterly blank. Finally, you crib someone else’s page, changing the facts as needed, and get the bleeping thing done.
In all these circumstances, you’re doing what I call “just the facts” marketing.
But something about that kind of marketing doesn’t feel right. Because “just the facts” marketing is broken. (As you doubtless know, because it happens not to be working.)
And then you remember.
By some grace, you remember. You care about your work. A lot. And you care about the people you work for.
You remember why you do what you do. Why you keep doing it even when it is difficult.
You remember your intentions for buyers and clients.
And care comes flooding back. (Actually, the care was there all the time. What comes flooding back is the awareness that you care.)
Care brings an irresistible desire to serve
The thing about care is that it instills a virtually irresistible desire to serve. And when you are impelled to serve, you will do whatever you can so the ones you care about get served.
Which means marketing to them. It means telling them about your work and supporting them in hiring you, because that’s in their best interest.
And suddenly, the light goes on.
“Just the facts” is no way to market to people you care about
Marketing is a conversation. And “just the facts” marketing is no way to have a conversation with people you care about. It’s broken because it’s boring and distant. It doesn’t convey care, let alone what you can do for people because you care.
It leaves out your commitment to their wellbeing. It soft pedals the significance of your offer. It minimizes the impact of your work. All of which means the very people who most need your work don’t get it.
And, quite against your real intentions, “just-the-facts” marketing implies you don’t care a whole lot.
So you need to put care and service in your marketing.
“But I already tell people I care”
At this point you may be saying, “But I do tell people I care. I do it all the time.”
I understand. But saying you care is not enough. You have to demonstrate it. You have to spell it out. You have to repeat it.
Because even when people know you care (think of your family), they need constant reassurance that you care. That you want to serve them.
Clients and prospective clients need that reassurance even more.
Care enough to say what’s at stake
When you think about the implications of caring, you realize why it’s so important to spell out the benefits of hiring you and the costs of inaction.
Not because you want to scare people. But because their well being or success is at stake.
If you are a body worker, you want people to have healthy bodies. So tell people what can happen if they don’t get regular body work. Let them know that taking care of their body now can prevent degeneration or loss of function in the future.
If you are a self-employment coach, you want people to create meaningful wealth doing work they care about. So tell people not just how you can help, but what can happen when they don’t get support.
This article started with a personal experience.
As Profit Alchemy 2011 neared completion, folks asked what would come next. After a number of conversations, I designed a mentoring program for them.
I wrote a “just the facts” Web page, laying out the nuts and bolts. That was enough for a few people. But quite a few more were left wondering just what my intentions were. How much support was I going to give? Would this be more of the same, which had been great, but is that really what they wanted or needed? How would this be different from applying what they had learned on their own?
Even these people I had worked closely with could not tell from the Web page how much I cared or how I intended to serve them. They didn’t know (because I hadn’t said) that everyone I know who is successfully self-employed has a coach, is being mentored, or is in a course (or some combination of the above).
They couldn’t know the stakes.
Listen to your people
Fortunately, a few people asked me enough questions about the mentoring program that I realized what was missing. (Like the fact that it is a mentoring program.)
Suddenly I was flooded with care and concern. I was aghast that I had left my care and concern out of the Web page. That I had taken it for granted that people would know how I felt and why I felt it was so important that they join the program.
So I rewrote the Web page with passion. It was easy, because I knew writing it was an act of service. And, no surprise, most of the people from Profit Alchemy signed up.
Results measure the scope of service
Results are nice. They are nice for your ego. They are nice for your pocket book.
They are especially nice because they mean you get to do work you love. And they are beyond nice because they mean that work is serving people you care about.
That’s a fact.
[This is one in a series of articles based on reader requests for coaching. If you’d like help on a money or other self-employment issue, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
About 30 years ago (but who’s counting?), I had an assignment in Zoology. We were to identify 30-some local plant species and bring in specimens.
Some species were easy to identify. But some were not. To the untrained eye and impatient eye, they all looked alike.
Which brings us to this week’s issue: help focusing your marketing when your just-right clients, in this case professional women, don’t cluster in any way you can see.
The FOCUS Method
When prospective just-right clients clients don’t cluster in any way you can see, you need to FOCUS.
Find a Point of Focus
Bringing your just-right clients into focus begins with finding a specific group to focus on. Think about the kinds of issues that people in the larger group face. What are their pressing challenges or urgent desires?
In the case of professional women, some issues might be:
* Nourishing their families when time is short.
* Finding just right child care.
* Dressing professionally and distinctively on a budget.
* Having a commanding presence without being brusque and hard.
* Inspiring teams to innovate.
* Investing wisely in green companies.
The list of issues within the workplace and without could go on and on. At this stage, don’t worry about finding something all professional women have in common. Instead, think about all the issues that a subset of your people might have.
Opt for a Specific Issue
Examine your list of pressing challenges and urgent desires. Identify the subset that attract you. The ones that intrigue you, inspire you, or in which you have unique expertise.
Then opt for one.
I know this step is hard. But please, please, if you are struggling to find clients, do it. This is the turning point that determines whether your message will stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Commit Wholeheartedly to Your Point of Focus
Once you have opted to meet a specific challenge or urgent desire, commit to serving the people who have it. Commit wholeheartedly, not just your head.
Committing wholeheartedly means fanning the flames of your interest and inclination. Cultivating a hearty appetite for meeting the needs of your just-right clients. Inviting your whole body and soul to feel the desire to be of service to these people in this way.
This is how you keep a narrow focus fresh and meaningful.
Seek First to Understand Your Just-Right Clients
Before you try to market yourself, before you create a Web site or craft an elevator speech, seek to understand your just-right clients.
What makes them get up in the morning? What keeps them awake at night? What inspires, intrigues, and interests them?
What about their pressing challenges and urgent desires makes them so important? What will they be, do, or have when those challenges or desires are met?
And remember, the only way to truly understand your just-right clients is to ask them. One at a time, face to face or on the phone (not by email or surveys), meet and inquire deeply into their priorities and concerns. Find out what the world looks like from behind their eyes.
Sustain Focus Until and Beyond Getting Hired
I’ve seen numerous participants in my programs get to this point and back pedal. Instead of sustaining the focus they’ve so painstakingly developed, they second guess themselves.
They go back to where they started.
And they don’t just start over. Usually they get stuck, unable to decide on a second point of focus. Because once you start second guessing yourself, it’s very hard to stop.
All the earlier steps are preparation. You’re not really visible until you focus, opt for, commit, and understand your just-right clients. So don’t expect dramatic results until you’ve sustained your focus for weeks, even months.
But I promise that when you start getting results, they will be consistent. Yes, you’ll still be subject to external forces, but you’ll stand out in the market place.
It’s Easier than Plant Identification
I got an incomplete in Zoology because I never did finish that assignment. But I’ve got a thriving business because I’ve FOCUSed it the way I described above.
In plant identification, you’re looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack (or, in this case, in a forest). But when it comes to focusing your marketing on a just-right client, you get to choose the haystack and decide where the needle goes. You can put a great big bow on the needle so you never lose it.
It works, and I hope you’ll FOCUS starting now.