Starting Over

Pretend for a moment that you were starting over. That you were setting up your writing or consulting business for the very first time. What would you do differently? It’s a brand new world out there. Or is it?If you are slightly fossilized like me, then perhaps when you first hung out your shingle, fax machines were so “de rigueur” that you actually charged your clients for each page you faxed to them. Not for the content, but for the cost of toner! You think I’m joking right? Not so. In the mid-80s I worked for a PR firm that did exactly that. Apparently this was quite common “back in the day” – when email and the Internet were virtually non-existent. And a corporate web site was unheard of, well, because it was unheard of.

It’s a little ironic. At one time, not having a fax number would be considered very strange. In the fast-paced world of the 80’s, a fax machine gave you the edge over your competition down the street that depended on courier service. Then everyone got fax machines and the playing field got level again. We still have these anchor weights around, but they act mostly as dust catchers because email and Acrobat have made them almost redundant.

So here we all are in 2008 chained 24/7 to our cell phones. Our Palm Pilots are our diaries of choice, and our BlackBerrys are not just a food choice anymore. We get anxious about conversion rates on our web sites; we wonder whether our intranets are worth their high cost of maintenance; and is anyone reading our double opt-in newsletter anyway?

So if you were starting all over, does all this modern technology make the marketing of your services easier or harder? I have come to the conclusion that just like the fax machine of the 80s, modern gadgets might contribute to the loss of work through their absence. But that they do not, in and of themselves, get you clients, not if you are in the professional service sector.

Let’s face it. Having a web site these days is about as unique as having a listing in the Yellow Pages. Most people still buy mainly products such as books or software over the Internet. And not services.

The old marketing cliché about the service profession – that people do business with people they like and trust – still holds true. So the question is, can they get to like and trust you via the Internet, via email, or many of the other conveniences of 21st century communication? I don’t think so.

As a speech writer, my clients really have to know and trust me. They have to see the whites of my eyes, literally and metaphorically, before they will hire me. There is very little chance that my speech writing web site will get me speech writing work. That is not its purpose. That said, it can give me some credibility that I know what I am doing. And some visibility too.

In this regard I commend to you a great book by C. J. Hayden. It is called Get Clients Now! A 28-Day Marketing Program for Professionals and Consultants (AMACOM 1999). She talks in some detail about which marketing strategies result in increasing your outreach, your credibility and your visibility. If I were starting over, I would definitely try to put her program into action.

Marketing is not playing a game. Nor is it about playing someone else. It is always about developing relationships over time. Anything that you can do to initiate an ongoing dialogue is what you are aiming for.

So, get out from behind your technology and go meet people. You know how to do it. You hold back because it takes a certain type of energy to get out there and engage others. But you also know how incredibly energizing it is to exchange ideas about matters that you are passionate about. You are passionate about your business, aren’t you?