Since there is a Federal election going on this May, my wife is hard at work teaching her grade 6 class all the ins and outs of the Canadian Government. She’s talking about the Senate, the House of Commons, the Prime Minister’s office, Cabinet, election ridings, all the various philosophies of the political parties. She’s about 15 minutes into the lesson when one of her ESL exchange students puts up her hand and asks, “What is voting?”
This is something that happens in the tech industry all too often. We get all excited trying to explain a product, what it can do and how it works, when the customer is still stuck on trying to figure out one key piece of information. To make matters worse, we’re talking to adults here. They don’t want to look stupid, so they are less likely to speak up when they don’t understand something. They’ll go with the guy who gave them a decorative pen instead. This why we need to have intense rapport with our customers. They need to feel comfortable asking questions. Better yet, ask THEM questions about what they understand, so you can craft your message accordingly. Remember, just because everyone in the room speaks English, it doesn’t mean you all speak the same language.
We all have skills we wish we had. When you own a business, you pretty much want all of them. Accounting skills, social skills, marketing skills, bow-hunting and computer hacking skills. But when the bills come in at the end of the month, the only skills that matter are the ones you have right now.
Last week, the SUCCESS self-employment program got me an appointment with Julia Vidacovic, a business coach from Vancouver. I would say she’s my kind of personal skills coach. She’s not so much concerned with my feelings as she is with getting me out there and making money. When you sign up to work with Julia, the emphasis is on the WORK. When I got there, she asked me where I wanted to see my business go. I told her the truth. I want to be making most of my money from high end clients that demand complicated e-commerce solutions that only I could provide. I also told her that there were a lot of other freelance programmers out there who were better than me at it.
She then asked me that question: What can you do right now?
The answer was staring right at me in my portfolio. It gave me a new perspective on my marketing. I was worrying too much about the markets that I didn’t have yet. Those clients in that portfolio represented a customer template that I could possibly replicate. If I tried to target some of the traits of those initial customers, I could see my sales increase. The more sales I made, the more permission I would have to market some more complicated services like e-commerce and Software as a Service.
I realized that this applies to every business, even every job. Everyone has something they can do. Think of it as a seed of success. It doesn’t matter how common the skill is. If you have done something for someone else, and they are happy about it, that forms a concrete basis for your marketing plan. Everything else is just guesswork.
You can find Julia and more of her wisdom at www.brightestspark.com
On April 6th, I’m going to the Fraser Valley Business Showcase at the Abbotsford Tradex Center. It’s got about 150 booths, and any number of them could be potential clients. I have one paper banner, 1/6 of a booth, a pack full of business cards, a smart blazer, and a winning smile. Hit it.
Trade shows can be a little intimidating to the newbie entrepreneur. Everyone there is trying to sell to everyone else, so at first blush they can sound like giant mooching conventions. But take heart, fellow merchants! Trade shows are not just places to empty out your business cards. They are opportunities to gain that permission part of permission marketing.
If you’re at a Trade Show in person, you get more options when it comes to your marketing. You’re not just competing on a list of features. Let’s face it, that’s no way to differentiate your business anyway. People can decide to do business with you based on whether you are easy to talk to or pleasant to work with. That’s something you can’t get off of a brochure.
You can also tailor your message specifically to the attendees. I’m going to go through the list of attendees, check out their websites, and make a list of ways we could help each other out.
Contests are another good way to get the permission to market. I for one plan on raffling off a website package for one lucky company (Leave a Comment at the bottom if you want in). Even if you just have one winner, the fact that you have contestants is a good way to gauge interest in your services. You can even contact the non-winners at a later date.
Remember, even if you don’t make single sale at your trade show, you get a lot of valuable information or your business. You’ll learn who needs your services, who doesn’t, and you an also scope out the competition. Most importantly, you’ll be meeting people. They are the one thing that can make your business a success.
When I started V2S web design, I decided I was going to be a friendlier, more approachable kind of web company. I’m the web designer that will answer all of your questions, no matter how basic! I’ll have screencasts and little blog posts de-mystifying all of this cybernetic greek for you! I’ll even call up you business and tell you how I can make the internet work for your business.
Reality is hard.
Screencasts take time and effort to produce. It involves being able to (shudder) listen to the sound of your own voice. Blog posts have to be punched out like license plates when I want my writing flow out like an artist’s painting. And calling businesses directly? Cold-calling is cold-calling, no matter how much background research you’ve done. It’s almost like you’re holding a cardboard sign out in Sumas saying “Will Code 4 Food.”
It would be easy to tell myself that marketing just isn’t my thing, that I should hire a professional to do it. But as it stands, I’m the only professional I know who will work for free. Sure, one blog post on my business site, won’t bring in much business, but what about 5, 10, or 50? I might not be putting out Dostoyevsky, but I’ve got to trade my artist’s beret for a bricklayer’s cap. Like it or not, the screencasts, blog posts, and sales calls are my products. Raw and untested they may be, but they won’t be able to do anything if don’t put them out there.