I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to market yourself.
There are a million unhelpful ways to understand marketing, and two ways that are useful to us here.
The first is Seth Godin’s definition, which is (I’m paraphrasing here): marketing is changing the culture.
OK fine, let’s scope that down a bit to the level of your business. Marketing is changing how prospective clients understand your business.
It’s merely taking charge of how your prospective clients understand you and what you can do for them.
The second definition is mine: marketing is connecting and building trust with prospective clients.
No matter which of these definitions you use, the default state of marketing is to fail to work. To be ineffective.
The default response of a human being to seeing your website is to misunderstand or ignore it.
The default response of a human being to hearing what you do for a living is to quickly forget it. (How quickly have you forgotten just the name of a person you’ve just met?)
The default response of a prospective client to hearing about what you can do for them is to not trust you.
These defaults are what causes most marketing to fail.
There are some defaults, however, that can have the opposite result and cause your marketing (again, that’s your attempts to connect and build trust with prospective clients) to not fail. To be effective.
The default response of a human who is a member of a social group is to treat other members of their social group better than outsiders.
The default response of a human who has a problem that they are aware of is to be on high alert for a solution to that problem. The more important and urgent the problem, the greater the solution-awareness.
The default response of a human who encounters another human with high status is to treat that high-status human better than lower-status humans.
Specialization helps you use these helpful defaults in human behavior to connect and build trust with clients more effectively.
I’ve written two books on specialization, but I can give you the essence of what you need to know about it in a few paragraphs.
Specialization does two things:
- It addresses marketing inefficiencies
- It helps you cultivate economically valuable expertise
Marketing inefficiencies are the multitude of things that cause marketing to not work.
Specialization forces you to become very specific about who you help or what kind of problem you solve. This harnesses those helpful defaults in human behavior and gets them working in your favor.
If you specialize vertically, you focus on a particular industry or audience, and over time you become an insider to that social group. It makes it possible to proactively find and connect with your clients. This also makes a big difference in how quickly you can build trust with prospective clients. You’re leveraging that first helpful default human behavior about social groups.
If you specialize horizontally, you become a solution to a specific problem or related group of problems. This leverages the solution-seeking human behavior. Another helpful default works in your favor instead of against you.
So that’s how specialization addresses marketing inefficiencies. Now about economically valuable expertise…
Remember how I said in yesterday’s email you can get an MBA and about half a decade of prestigious consulting firm experience as a way to get where we’re talking about going here? That’s one way to earn the status that you need for clients to pay for access to your thinking.
The other thing you can do is… bear with me here… the other thing you can do is cultivate thinking that is self-evidently worth paying for access to. Revolutionary, right?! ;)
Specialization helps you cultivate thinking that is self-evidently worth paying for access to because you are picking a “home base” (either a market vertical or problem domain) and spending enough time focused there that you can become an expert in something. A self-made expert in that thing.
In tomorrow’s email I’ll dive more into this self-made expert thing, because it’s inextricably linked to the idea of a market position, which—giving away the punchline here—is your reputation.
Not your reputation as in “oh, Philip is a good guy who treats people well; I like him” but your reputation as in “you need to get ___________ to help you with this. They’re the best expert I know for that.”
When a meaningful number of people start thinking of you as the go-to expert for something, your business and life change for the better.
More on that in tomorrow’s email.
Until then, let’s do a quick little exercise to start turning this specialization idea into something real for your business.
Unless you have a seriously high risk profile (a synthesis of your emotional tolerance for risk and your physical ability to sustain financial loss), your best bet for specialization is to find an existing head start of some kind in your business.
To start thinking about where your head start is, do the following:
- In a spreadsheet, list every client you’ve ever worked for, and list the market vertical they’re in. https://www.naics.com/naics-drilldown-table/ has a complete list of verticals. Column A could be client name, Column B the work you did for them (break out separate projects into separate rows), and Column C the vertical the client is in.
- Sort your list by Column C (the client’s vertical). Look for a cluster of multiple clients or projects in the same vertical. This is a potential head start. You may have more than one such head start.
- In Column D, describe the business problem you helped your client solve.
- Now sort your list by Column D. Look for a cluster of experience around a single business problem. This is another form of potential head start.
If this exercise was helpful and you’d like an expanded version, check out: /a-framework-for-deciding-how-to-specialize/
OK, that should keep you busy until tomorrow, when I’ll talk about how your specialization grows into a market position, which is a big source of power in your relationships with clients.