Branding and positioning

Positioning: How to Stop Cutting Vegetables With a Mallet

By Brennan Dunn

(This is a guest post by Philip Morgan, a speaker at the upcoming Double Your Freelancing Conference. Don’t have your ticket yet? Buy your ticket while they’re still available and join Philip and 13 other speakers in Norfolk, Virginia, this September 16th – 18th)

I’m going to embarrass myself a bit by telling you that even though I have half a decade of experience in the content marketing business, I wasn’t getting any results from my own content marketing until recently.

How could this be?

I had written very effective white papers for Microsoft, Hitachi, and Verizon, among others. I’ve written compelling web copy for other successful companies.

Why weren’t my own marketing efforts turning into leads for my business?

Maybe I’m the slow one…

I had some theories about why my marketing was ineffective:

Maybe I’m just destined to learn everything the hard way?

  • Perhaps I’m the slow kid in my class? (It wasn’t that way in school, though.)
  • Is marketing just really way harder than I thought it was?
  • Maybe nobody really cares about what I have to say in my content marketing? Maybe I should try something else instead, like hiring a salesperson or placing ads?

Deep down, though, I knew it wasn’t any of those things.

Content marketing works like gangbusters for other consulting businesses, even small ones like mine. Something else must have been causing my problems.

So…. What Do You Do?

When I tell people I work for myself, the next question is always, “What do you do?”

Believe it or not, I never had a great answer for that question back then.

I worked hard to develop a catchy tagline for my business, and thanks to some help from my wife’s creative thinking, came up with “Smart Marketing for Geeks and Creatives”.

This was a step in the right direction, but it still had a lot of problems.

If I met you for the first time, you asked me what I did, and I told you “I create smart marketing for geeks and creatives,” who would you think needs my help? Who might you want to refer to me because they have the exact problem that I help solve?

Your answer to that question is nobody. Nobody clearly, obviously needs “smart marketing for geeks and creatives” because that is a very broad audience and a poorly-defined benefit.

And that was the root of my unsuccessful content marketing efforts!

I was talking about my business in the wrong way, using vague, soggy language.

I was trying and failing to be memorable by being broad and general.

As a result, I was cranking out content marketing (blog articles, email courses, etc.) that tried to appeal to anybody and everybody who needed content marketing. The result was that nobody really cared!

Nobody found my content marketing unique, indispensable, or valuable to their specific problems and goals.

Cooking With a Mallet

My approach to marketing my business was like trying to prep vegetables for a sandwich using a mallet instead of a sharp knife.

In order to find a cozy, memorable home in the minds of my prospects (and others who might refer them to me), I needed to put down the mallet and pick up something much more precise.

I needed to properly position my business.

That’s what positioning is, after all. It’s becoming very specific and precise about who you serve, what problem you solve for them, and how you do so differently than others.

It’s using a knife to carve out a very specific home for your business in the minds of your prospects and those who might refer prospects to you. It’s about becoming memorable so that word of mouth starts working in your favor.

Positioning is all about becoming the go-to person for something specific. It’s about focusing enough that your skills and your reputation allow you to command premium rates. It’s the foundation of building a brand for your business.

Getting to $300/hour

After I positioned my business as a specialist who helps a specific kind of client (development shops) solve a specific problem (getting more leads without hiring a salesperson), things changed a lot for me.

As I mentioned above, my content marketing actually started to work. My list grew from 150 to 900 over 6 months, and more people started seeking me out for help with their needs. Then rates jumped from $90/hour to $200 to $300/hour.

Most of all, my confidence increased. My ability to confidently and compassionately say no to clients who weren’t right for me increased, along with my ability to attract the right kind of clients.

Where to Begin?

I don’t want to end this article without leaving you with an actionable takeaway.

So here it is…

If you are operating as a generalist providing services to any client who needs your help, pick an audience or market vertical and focus your services on them.

This will feel like a risky sacrifice of potential business. It will feel like you are giving up the apparent security of being able to take on any kind of client.

But in reality, this small sacrifice will pay you back many, many times over.

1) It will pay you back in increased referral business. Why? Because word of mouth tends to travel vertically within market segments. People who do human resources (HR) work tend to go to HR conventions, where they will refer you to other HR professionals, especially if your focus is on serving HR professionals!

2) It will pay you back in increased close rates on proposals. Why? Because you will be positioning yourself as the obvious choice. The one with specialized knowledge that generalist firms could never match. The one with a track record, made apparent through your portfolio or case studies, that demonstrates your ability to solve the kind of problems your audience cares about.

3) It will pay you back in increased fees or rates. Why? Because specialists can always charge more! Don’t believe me? Look at the bill you’ve gotten from any medical specialist you’ve ever seen (or heard about friends or family seeing), any specialist attorney you’ve had to hire, or the prices you’ve seen for any other specialist.

Pick an audience or market vertical focus, roll out that new focus out as fast as you can comfortably manage, and watch your business get better before your eyes.

If you’d like to learn how you can use positioning to increase your rates and attract better clients, I urge you to attend the Double Your Freelancing Conference this September. I’ll be joined by a dozen incredible speakers who are all doing their darndest to help you level up your freelancing. I think it will change your life for the better, and I hope to see you there!