Do you do what everyone else does?
With so many products and services flying around out there, you’d do well to stand out to attract the fans and buyers who need you. People are responding to this with various forms of self promotion and getting the word out there.
The trouble is, most people are either simply not doing enough, or they resort to being grotesque (any pop ‘stars’ come to mind?), or they’re doing what everyone else is doing.
Those that aren’t doing what most do, will stand out, and likely win that client if their work is correctly aligned to what they need.
Here are some things you can start doing that most others do not. Yet…
1. Focus on serving a tiny sub-market
Particularly for creatives who provide a service rather than a physical product, a lot of effort is used up on trying to please too wide an audience. Things get so much easier when you really whittle down who it is you are serving to a smaller, laser-defined group of people. Your motivation for reaching out to these guys will go up too.
So for example, instead of describing yourself as a ‘professional photographer’, describe yourself as a ‘portrait photographer’, or better still, an ‘outdoors portrait photographer’, or even: a ‘wildlife portraits photographer for zoos and parks.’
The trick is in finding a market segment that is not too broad so that you lose your focus, and not too small that you cannot source enough ongoing work from them.
2. Become spectacular at one thing before moving on to the next
We all get excited about all the opportunities that are out there, and the fun creative pursuits we could experiment with. This is great for furthering skill, having hobbies, and creating backup options for your existing product or service. But what very few people do, is in staying with a single skill, medium or angle, becoming exceptional at it and presenting just that, and nothing else.
A lot of people never get to this point because it is often thought that it should be all passion and excitement and fun, all the way. The greats create spectacular things because they stay with what they are doing, through pain, boredom and plenty of passion too.
3. Keep in touch with previous clients
This will vary depending on your field, or industry, but in general, your most likely source of work is not new clients or customers, but previous ones. This is especially true if past customers have had a great experience with you.
Put a large chunk of your ‘promotional’ effort towards maintaining happy relationships with previous people you have worked with. Many will want to work with you again.
4. Have a blog/podcast/feed that speaks directly to your market segment
A lot of us have blogs to get whatever it is we need out into the world. Blogs are often used as a means of expression; a form of release. Many of these blogs will be limited in reach, and some will only be of real interest to yourself. That’s fine if your blog acts as a kind of personal journal.
Few of us consider blogs or these other forms of ‘drip-feed’ communication as a way to directly bring real value to those who’ve been identified as potential clients. If you can create a tighter readership on a topic that is directed to those who are likely to want to work with you, rather than shotgunning a range of people outside of your target, this can be huge for you.
“Create a tighter readership on a topic directly aimed at your clients.”
So let’s say you are an illustrator whose target clients are global finance and banking firms (at least the directors who work for their marketing departments). Rather than a blog that only shares updates on what you’ve been working on, you could write a blog or create a podcast that serves these kinds of people.
For example, the blog topic could be about how big financial corporations stand to benefit from graphic art in their branding and advertising power. You get this blog in front of them, and they will read it because it will speak to them directly. You have kept them and their business in mind before you even started writing.
Don’t have a clue about the value of graphic art in corporate advertising? Read some books, become that expert, and really serve those people with the good stuff.
5. Do in-depth market research
I know what you’re thinking. Just those two words: ‘market. research.’ feel like dust in my mind right now. But dust can be useful. Very useful.
“Dust can be useful.”
Market research should go beyond simply creating something cool and then working out who you will sell it to.
Market research can be more in-depth and reveal so much more about who your market actually are, where they are, what they need, how much they can afford, what their biggest problems and fears are, and so on.
Take an interest in the psychology of people too and you’ll be able to see what things flick our switches. View it as an investigation. Like on CSI Miami or something. You’re Sherlock Holmes. Seriously!
So do a little hunting around on the various industries and companies out there who hire creatives. Make use of research that has been done before, and conduct your own.
The more you know about your market, the better your entire work and delivery process will be, from creation to engagement and connection, to final delivery.
Very few people do.
6. Be a connector
You will notice when you look around at particularly well known, or seemingly well-connected people, that beyond interacting with people, they make a lot of connections between other people too.
When you introduce two or more people who would benefit to know one another, you’re not only being helpful and awesome, but you immediately become this ‘connection node’ linking these two people together. When this connection works, you’ll always be at the root of that connection, and that creates great awareness for you.
This is what good ‘networking’ is all about.
So rather than expanding your network one person at a time (which is great too), you can expand at two or more at a time, and grow exponentially, all while avoiding being ‘salesy’ and it being all about you.
This could range from referring a fellow creative to a prospect you know could work with them, to setting up an event, and bringing hundreds of people together.
To start, read all books by Keith Ferrazzi, who’s something close to the ‘God’ of connecting people.
7. Keep an entire day free to focus on one thing
It’s a rare thing to drop everything and dedicate a full day or more to making or working on something truly exceptional.
For one day or more, make a firm decision to cut out distraction and put everything into something, whether that be creating an outstanding portfolio-piece, or putting aside a day to learn about something specific and important for your craft.
When you commit like this, it becomes much easier to actually get stuff done, without being dragged in many directions by all the other things you feel it would be good to do.
“Tell Facebook, your phone, Twitter and your noisy neighbours to stuff it on this day.”
And at the end of it, you’ll have something of real quality, that will boost your portfolio and your own value significantly.
8. Go and physically meet your clients or connections
There is no stronger way to make a connection with someone, and stay in their awareness than actually meeting them.
Very few people buy prospects lunch, talk to potential business partners at conferences or offer to visit them at their offices. Obviously it helps to have built up previous rapport if you’re visiting them during their own time, but if you approach them on a collaborative, helpful level, you will find them happy to talk.
If you’re shy, ‘unshy’ yourself by doing more things that put you under social pressure a little, like using the phone more, or doing improvisation, or throwing mangoes at people at the park.
When you know who it is you want to interact with, then it becomes easier to know where you can find them, and what exactly of value you can bring to them.
9. Build a ‘beacon’
Not bacon. This is a project, such as an invention, a book, a charity, an app, or a regular event you put on, that can be aside from your creative products and services. This is something that is of such value and interest, that it attracts people from all corners to you.
This is the kind of thing that will take various sacrifices on your part, mainly time, in order to fulfil the creation of something really valuable. Because the barriers to entry are higher for this, many others won’t go there, leaving room for you to create something really special.
This is the thing that will make everyone see you in a new light, and will have a powerful and positive effect on your exposure.
An example is the ‘Escape from Illustration Island’ podcast series that illustrator Thomas James ran for a few years. This is a beacon, because his series provided a great wealth of insight from all kinds of people in the graphic arts industry, and attracted thousands of listeners from all over.
This has the effect of making him a connector, expert, source of knowledge and entertainment, and much more.
10. Do something genuinely caring for clients
This is something talked a lot about by social media superhero Gary Vaynerchuk. He says that real care for your clients is the way to stand out in any business. To really win in this current, seething, hugely competitive economy is to “out-care” your competition.
“Out-care your competition.”
This requires doing the research and truly knowing your prospects and clients as friends. And when you do, you can go a little further with how you treat them or communicate with them.
For example, you might have picked up that a client of yours has expressed a particularly strong interest in Star Wars – maybe it’s written in one of their online profiles. When you next want to thank them for working with you, perhaps send them a fun web link, or even an actual toy Star Wars gift.
That’s the kind of thing that won’t be forgotten. It just takes a little bit of added awareness each time you interact with people, but it can forge extremely strong connections – connections that will bring you work and referrals.
When you start to see prospects, clients and fans as individuals, with interesting lives, rather than a sea of faceless entities that you can take from, you have a huge advantage.
11. Chip away daily
Something that’s so important to grasp when approaching ‘marketing’ and attracting new business to your work is the gradual nature of it.
The hardest thing about getting your work seen, in the big scary world, is not ‘promotion’, selling, trying to ‘impress’ people, be liked, differentiate or have a unique selling point (though some of these are important, yes).
It’s about understanding that effective network-building and attracting work is very gradual.
You must switch from the idea of promotion as quick; as short-term; as a series of one-off events; a fast email ‘blast’- to the idea that it is something to be cultivated over time.
And that’s the hardest part.
But when you do chip away a little, regularly, it doesn’t need to be difficult. You just need to say hello to an old client or retweet a tweet for someone.
Bit by bit, person by person.
Most of the clients you get might choose to work with you months or even years after you make that initial contact with them. A Chinese proverb visualises this idea beautifully:
“Remember to dig the well, long before you get thirsty.”
Reach out to someone new, or old, every day. Invest time. You don’t need to sell them anything. Just make sure your work or website is well-presented and easy to find for clients should they want to look you up, and that you’re giving some value, even if it’s just a funny link, a story or even providing some help.
With this knowledge in your briefcase, go ahead and do. But there is no need to do all of this at once. Choose something, and do it well.
Then sit back and eat some ice-cream.
Do share this post with your friends, and let me know what has worked for you, and more, in the comments below, and let’s get a discussion going. Thanks for reading!
Illustrations by Alex Mathers, that’s me!