Monday, 22 February 2016

If You Build It, They Will Come, And Other Internet Myths

Cartoon of Wendy Cockcroft: Social Media - which ones should you use?
I've got a friend who is coming around on Tuesday night to get some help with her business. She's a life coach/personal consultant-type professional trying to get off the ground, and has run into the same problem as every business owner ever: how to win clients. I'm writing this to send to her so she's got something to be getting on with.

Well she's got a web page up and it's mobile-friendly. That is a good start but my friend is a bit concerned that even though she has an online presence, clients aren't making enquiries.

The problem

I've had a nose around and have come to the following conclusions:

  • She's not being specific enough about her services
  • She's not actively hunting business online
  • She's not engaging with other professionals
  • She's not engaging with potential clients
  • She's not building a professional reputation online
  • She's getting lost in a sea of competitors and needs to stand out

We've both agreed that she needs to change her approach if she wants to win business online so we need to dig down and identify the problem properly before we can effect a solution. My friend's problem can be summed up in one word: definition. She has yet to properly define herself and her business. 

The solution

The solution to my friend's issue will involve defining who she is, what her business is, and how she can help her clients. I've had a go at explaining what this actually means in my Medium blog post, How Many Hats Do You Wear? I've had to wear a lot of hats in my life and once you've built an idea of who and what you are by consistently talking and acting in a specific way, it can be hard to shift. This is both a good and a bad thing. The trick is to influence people into accepting your preferred definition of yourself and your business by talking and acting in a way consistent with the image you want people to accept. Let's go through the problems my friend is experiencing with defining herself and her business and provide some effective solutions.

Be specific

Qualified professionals are prone to using industry jargon. That's all well and good if you're trying to win business from people who know and understand what that means, but if you're aiming your pitch at the average Jane, that's the wrong approach. What Jane wants to know is why she should part with her hard-earned cash when she could probably work her issues out over a cup of tea with her friends. That is what you need to tell her. Decide who you are, what your business is and what it does, and who you're aiming your services at. That is the launch pad for your social media strategy.

Hunt business

If you have a predator pet, e.g. a cat, have you ever watched it hunt? They don't run yowling out at their prey, they sneak up stealthily behind it. I once saw a cat sit down beside a mouse hole and purr. Out came the mouse, and CHOMP! The End. My friend needs to do something like that. I won business on Google Plus by being friendly with people in allied trades. To cut a long story short, a systems analyst referred his father to me and the result was a thing of beauty, if I say so myself. The trick, then, is to present yourself well, win their trust, and deliver the best service you can.

Engage with other professionals

My friend needs to create a social media strategy in which she engages with other professionals. These people need to be in the same trade and in allied industries. When I did web design for a living I followed those web designers who were on the bleeding edge. Jeffrey Zeldman, Paul Irish, and Ethan Marcotte were among the first people I followed on Twitter because I wanted to learn from them. I still follow them and the web design blogs because I'm still interested in them. I also followed SEO and marketing specialists, along with a range of UX (user experience) and blogging professionals, the idea being that I could either learn from them or get business from them.

Engage with potential clients

Before I stopped trading as Wendy Cockcroft Web Design and Google Plus turned into a partisan political cesspit, I would chat to other people about issues unrelated to my work as well as to the industry professionals. I became friendly with a musician's wife—that resulted in a commission to design Preston Reed's 2012 tour header for his Facebook page. I soon learned that you have to decide where you "live" online and that the lions go where the zebras are. If your target market is mostly on Facebook, that's where you go. Seek out the kind of people you believe might need your services and befriend them. Chat with them. You can tie your FB account to Twitter using their Facebook app. Every tweet will then be posted to Facebook. When your industry tweets show up in their stream they'll know you as "the one who does X" and when they believe the need has arisen to seek your services, they'll come to you. This is important: separate your business and personal Facebook engagement. Make a Facebook page for your business and be quick to respond to any comments there. Never overtly tout for business on your personal Facebook timeline, it makes you look desperate.

Build a professional reputation online

I can't stress this enough: engage, engage, engage. Chatter away with industry professionals and potential clients wherever they may be found. You're likely to find that the industry professionals are mostly on Twitter while potential clients are mostly on Facebook. The best and most effective way to reach both at the same time is to blog. Write about the issues affecting your industry, particularly if it affects allied trades as well. I got a lot of respect for my blogging about social media and how to use it. This resulted in guest blogging for Digital Business because editor Will Hawkins wanted a post on how a beginner might set up a Facebook business page. Accept guest blogging invitations, you need to get your name known as a competent professional and I know no better way of doing this. Although I don't do it for a living any more, I'm still known as a web designer among my old G+ associates because that's what I talked about on my blog. Then I shared links to my blog posts on G+, Twitter, and Facebook.

Stand out from the crowd

Presenting yourself as a competent professional respected in your industry and allied trades is all well and good but every practitioner who is serious about gaining business from their online activities is doing the exact same thing. How do you stand out from the crowd? There are two things you need to do: get yourself known among potential clients as the go-to person in that industry without overtly shilling. It's a delicate balancing act best achieved by being chatty online and sharing your blog posts and links to industry-related articles on your social media accounts. Your FB business page should be your primary destination for your business posts. Reach out to potential clients by taking an interest in what they're interested in and let them check you out. Blog about your experiences in the trade; on my own blog (On t'Internet was my Wendy Cockcroft Web Design blog before I closed down the business and redirected the URL) I wrote about my experiences as a web designer, good and bad. I also blogged about services and features web designers and website owners could avail themselves of. Potential clients seeing this would then have an idea of what could be done on their own websites. When you're seen as an authority, you get respect. When you get respect, you get interest, and when you get interest, you get business.


The points made here are the results of my personal experiences in trying to get a business off the ground in a saturated market. I learned a lot from people in allied trades, e.g. marketing and SEO and used that to win business. Ultimately, I got the bulk of my business via personal referrals. It's hard to get business straight from the internet because the element of trust isn't there, and that's the first thing you need if you want to win people over. It is possible, however, if you can make yourself known. Until people know you even exist, they won't be doing business with you, it's as simple as that.

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