I’ve looked at a lot of marketing done by self-employed developers and small shops.
What I see breaks down into two basic categories. There’s stuff that basically everybody says about themselves in their marketing, and there’s stuff that very few people can credibly say about their business.
I’d like to help move you out of that first category and into the second.
Here’s the stuff everybody says about themselves:
“Our team is the best”
This is like how most people believe they are an above-average driver. This is called the Illusory Superiority cognitive bias. Wikipedia sayeth:
Svenson (1981) surveyed 161 students in Sweden and the United States, asking them to compare their driving skills and safety to other people. For driving skills, 93% of the U.S. sample and 69% of the Swedish sample put themselves in the top 50%; for safety, 88% of the U.S. and 77% of the Swedish put themselves in the top 50%.
If your clients are seeing the “our team is the best” line on every site, they’re going to stop actually believing that in short order.
“We care more”
I’m sure you do care about your clients, but I’ve seen enough freelancer-bitching-about-client discussion in various places to know that a lot of professional service providers will summarily throw their clients under the bus when the going gets tough on a project. Maybe not to their clients’ face, but to their colleagues, friends, romantic partner, or in the privacy of their own mind.
There are multiple ways that freelancer-client relationships are structurally flawed from the outset. The hourly billing model is one of those, and a freelancer who commits to casual mediocrity rather than disciplined expertise is another.
“Our technology choices are better/more thoughtful”
I see this a lot. I understand the temptation to “invite your client into the factory”. To demonstrate expertise by making it about how smart you are.
Your clients know that the choice of technology stack doesn’t reduce the failure rate of IT projects, and that it doesn’t dramatically effect market adoption of a new product. The choice of technology does matter, but it doesn’t increase ROI when the custom software is ill-matched to the business problem. Technology choices do matter, but they need to serve a larger goal of business benefit. Make sure they’re contextualized properly when you’re discussing them in your marketing.
“We have a GREAT process!”
I’m sure you do! So does every other freelancer who has more than a few years experience.
A great process (or one that is at least good enough) can be learned from a book, or a weekend workshop, and dialed in over the course of few months.
An effective, repeatable process for producing results for your clients is the table stakes. It’s the minimum you need to demonstrate in your marketing, not the “secret sauce” that’s going to differentiate you from other firms.
Just a brief intermission here: I know I’m sounding pretty cranky right about now. 🙂 My perspective on the messaging points above is that you can do better. You may need to start by saying some of that stuff about your business, but you really can do better. And when you do, you’ll have better results. More effective marketing, better rates, better clients. Not overnight, but over time.
Here’s what very few freelancers are able to credibly say in their marketing message:
“I/We understand your business better”
Would you start selling insurance policies to people if you didn’t understand–at great depth, mind you–the risk you’re dealing with? I’d hope not!
If you want to get paid substantially more to use software to benefit your clients, you really should understand their business. The fastest way to do that is to specialize in one kind of business. One market vertical or one audience. Chase one “rabbit” instead of several.
“We’re industry veterans and therefore have deeper insight”
This is related to the “we understand your business better” messaging point. This is not one that you can manufacture, or even grow towards.
You either have industry veteran status or you don’t, but if you do it’s a real asset and you should use it in your marketing.
“We probably aren’t the right fit for 80%, but are amazing for 20%”
If you can help every client equally, there is literally something wrong with your business. What is wrong is that you are a commodity.
The more valuable your expertise or experience, the more dependent it will become on having the proper context to actually deliver that value. The proper context is created by specializing in just a few types of clients you’re focus on serving.
“We published/created [uniquely valuable thing]”
The creators of ZURB foundation have plenty of desirable work building stuff with ZURB. My friend Dave Haeffner, author of a well-known and respected book on Selenium, gets as much Selenium consulting work as he cares for. My wife recently paid the author of a book on cat behavior $350/hr to teach us how to integrate a new cat into our household (the coaching call was way faster than reading the book and worth every penny). Al Ries, the author of the original book on positioning, charges $30,000 for a 2-day onsite consultation with Fortune 500-type companies.
You get the picture… when you create some book, process, tool, framework, or other intellectual property that has unique value, you occupy an enviable market position and your marketing can start to talk about how awesome this thing is rather than how awesome you are.
“Don’t ask us about us; ask around instead“
If you are actually able to produce outsized beneficial results for your clients, then potential new clients will not have to go far afield before they run into someone saying nice things about you. And that kind of spontaneous testimonial or referral is far more credible than anything else you could ever publish in your own marketing.
(You know what I’m about to say don’t you?)
One simple but difficult decision opens the door from having to say the same stuff that basically everybody says about themselves to being able to say stuff that very few people can credibly claim about their business.
That second category of marketing claims is where you want to be. https://philipmorganconsulting.com/positioning-workshop/ can help you make that simple but difficult decision.
The workshop registration closes on November 7, so don’t wait. At least check it out to see if it’s a good fit for you: https://philipmorganconsulting.com/positioning-workshop/
Talk to you soon,
If your dev shop got fewer than 10 leads last week, you need to take this free email course –> http://positioningcrashcourse.com