Marketing Your Business As a Self-Employed Entrepreneur, Part IV

Part IV: Building a Relationship With Your Customers

This is the last in a four-part series on how to market your business as a self-employed entrepreneur. The first article, “Selling is Not a Dirty Word,” can be accessed here. The second, “Marketing Basics” can be accessed here. The third, “Building a Relationship with your Customer,” can be found here.

• It’s not about you. When you’re starting a business, it’s easy to focus on you and what you need and how things are working out for you. If you shift your focus to how you can best serve your customers, your whole mindset will change—and that change will naturally be telegraphed to your clientele. People will sense that you’re really there to help them or meet their needs—not just to use them.

• It’s essential that you understand your customers. Learn everything you can about the people who use your products and services. I am certainly willing to teach anyone, and love it when diversity walks through my door, but I have learned over the years that my “typical” student is a middle-aged woman who is going through a life change or who wants a creative outlet. I also have younger and older students—and the occasional man graces my classes, but I know whom my core students are—and what they’re looking for.

• Offer value before you ask for a sale. In our information-rich technological world, resources and information are shared readily and easily—often at the click of a button—most of it for free. People expect to get a good deal of value for nothing and you have to be prepared to give it to them. No one will give you their email address or their attention or their money unless you’ve already proven that you have information or resources that can help them directly. This value could be a free class, a information-rich blog, a free download from your website, a presentation at a conference or a number of other things, depending on your business.

• Inspire loyalty. Your goal should be to create a relationship, not just a sale. A one-time sale doesn’t really help your business. Find a way to stay in touch with former students and customers. The best way for you will be determined by who you are and the kind of relationship you want to develop. I utilize a monthly email newsletter and The Writer’s Journey Roadmap; I send out weekly writing prompts by email. These prompts are connected to a free online community where people can post writing and respond to each other’s work. I spent several months and several thousand dollars creating this free “product,” and I spend a fair amount of time keeping it going and monitoring the site where this online community gathers. The Writer’s Journey Roadmap reflects my values and represents exactly who I am and what I do best. It has been worth every dollar and every hour I spent working to create it because I am creating relationships with people all over the country and the world, people who are learning to trust me and become curious about what I have to offer. Right now, my (very limited) advertising dollars are not going to promote my paid events; they’re advertising the free Roadmap, because it’s the most effective ways I get new people, outside of my own local community, to become acquainted with who I am and what I do. P.S. There is always an ad on the Roadmap blog and the email I send out promoting the next retreat, but it’s in the background, not the main event.

• Communicate with your customers before, during and after your events. I rarely use a written syllabus in my work because I value spontaneity, but I do tell people what to expect once they arrive, when the breaks will be, and any other pertinent information they might need. After events, I often send a follow-up letter thanking everyone for their participation and highlighting upcoming opportunities to work with me further. Once someone attends one of my events, they also get added on my email list and receive future mailings I send out.

• Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. This is one of the reasons I take writing classes myself. Being a student keeps me in touch with how much I resist certain assignments, how vulnerable I feel when I’ve spilled out the truth on the page, and how sometimes, I’d rather have brain surgery than read out loud. Staying close to my students’ experience gives me a visceral reminder of what I’m asking them to do. For similar reasons, I always include myself on my own mailing list and try to register for every event I post—so I can see first-hand what my students are experiencing when they interface with my marketing and registration materials.

• Listen to your customers. I always listen to my students’ suggestions and complaints, and often hand out evaluation forms at the end of my events. I want to know what worked and what can be improved upon. With evaluations, I’ve found that I get the most thorough responses when I actually build time into the schedule for people to fill them out right then and there. I hand out the forms, leave the room and give them 20 minutes to complete them. And I make sure I ask open-ended questions that give me the kind of input I want and can put to use.

• Gather testimonials. In my evaluation forms for major events, I ask people how they would recommend the event to a friend. It’s a very effective way to get great testimonials. You are free to shorten or edit these responses to suit your purposes, as long you stay true to the spirit and intent of the writer. You’re free to use all or part of what someone says about you or your business—and it’s permissible to rearrange the sentences to create a punchier, more powerful endorsement. If you didn’t ask for permission up front, ask for permission to use the edited version. I’ve never had anyone complain about my edits as long as I stick to their syntax, wording, and intent, and have simply made their quote sound more clear and concise.

• Your customers’ email addresses are like gold. Email marketing has been an extremely fruitful tool for me. Find a way to offer something to your customers so they’ll opt in to your communications. You have to obey the rules of the road—like not spamming people and using a double opt-in system—and you have to provide continual value if you want people to stay on your list. No one is interested in receiving only a steady stream of advertising. Offer value—much of it for free, and people will stay connected to you and your message.

• Upsell to the next event. Take a few moments out of your class or workshop or weekend event to tell the people already using your services about upcoming or future events. How often and when you do this will depend on your business, but don’t be afraid to stop for a moment and say, “I want to tell you about a couple of upcoming events/specials/opportunities…..” Don’t mumble, look down at the floor or apologetically race through your pitch. Believe in your offerings enough to talk about them. Think of yourself as offering an incredible opportunity that people need and want rather than “trying to sell something.” If you don’t ask for the sale—you won’t get it.

• Ask your current customers to help you reach new customers. When I’m promoting a particular upcoming event, I ask my students if they have a place to put up my flyers—or if they know of anyone else who might be interested. And there is always a way to forward my emails to anyone else they know who might be interested—or to link them to social media.

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