What’s Your Best Offer?

Highest Grade

Is “on time and within budget” the first few lines of your marketing message?

If you had to remove those words, what would your story be?

Everyone worries about spending money, even those with deep pockets. And if someone hires you they hope you’ll finish on time. Both are universal concerns.

They’re also the least a customer can expect. A built-in feature. And when you’re not the cause of a ballooning budget or a blown schedule, your best offering is now shot.

Even if you’re serving the fast and cheap crowd, you still need to stand out among all the other businesses using the same line.

Better is to include these base-level offerings on a dedicated page about your process. That’s where the features go.

What you capture attention with is either what sets you apart from others in your same industry, or demonstrating an understanding of your customers’ fears and dreams. Or a combination.

• What do people compliment you on?

• What part of your personality are you hiding that could be unleashed, such as a sense of humor?

• What are you most proud of?

• What do potential customers worry about most (aside from time and money)?

• What feeling will your work leave them with? Relief? Delight? Confidence?

The problem is, we don’t often view our own marketing messages in the context of those we compete with. Listings are one of the best places to look if it fits your industry, such as Houzz. But even visiting 10 of your competitors’ sites will be eye opening. That’s what your potential customers are doing.

Making Your List, Checking It Twice

List of names

If you use an e-mail service to send newsletters or blasts, how did you build your list? If the answer is that you invited people or they added themselves via a form on your website, three cheers for you! No coal in your Christmas stocking.

Email is still one of the most powerful ways to connect with customers or prospects short of having coffee together, even when automated (because you can personalize it). You’re not competing with a stream of cat photos in Facebook or random Twitter chatter. It’s a great way to further your brand and personality, and become a go-to person in your field.

But you don’t want people scratching their heads when your third e-blast of the week arrives in their in-box, wondering if they forgot they signed up for your list.

There are three types of emails from businesses: total spam, almost spam and not spam. If you invited people to your list or they signed up (knowing what they were getting), that’s not spam.

We all know what total spam is.

Almost spam is everything else, such as adding people to your list, even people you know, even good friends, who might very well have said, “Yes, sign me up Scottie!” if only you’d asked.

Perish the thought that deleting your email is easy. Trust and respect rule here. The burden is not on your recipient, it’s on you to inform, inspire and delight. I even ask permission from clients, people who pay for my advice.

The only good method is a double-opt-in. Better to have a few true believers than the many annoyed because you didn’t seek permission. That’s why they call it permission marketing. I’m not even sure how I got onto lists I didn’t sign up for because most e-mail services have a built-in, double-opt-in set up, such as Mail Chimp’s or Aweber’s.

While I don’t get as giddy about your e-newsletter as I do when the Sunday New York Times lands on my front stoop, it’s still intimate, contained and gentle. But even the most scintillating e-newsletter is stuff in your inbox that must be tended to, which is why it’s bad for business to send them too often, lacking in good content or to people who didn’t sign up, or a combination of all three. (The occasional e-mail sent from your personal address to alert people about an event is forgiven.)

I’m of the mind that everyone has good advice to give if they’ve worked in their field long enough, which is why I’m not in favor of purely self-promotional e-newsletters. I give them a pass though, even those I never signed up for, if they’re infrequent enough, such as quarterly.

Can I add all my Facebook subscribers? Heavens no.

What about my mother? Ask first.

My best friend? See above.

When in doubt, err on the side of caution. Always disclose what someone is getting into. Having an event with a sign-up sheet? Clearly state they are agreeing to be put on your list. Even then, they should still receive a confirmation email, just in case they were tipsy when they put their name down.

If you plan to use the same list for e-newsletters and e-blasts, let people know what to expect. When I started my e-newsletter (which some people find helpful and you can subscribe to here), I alerted people that I might on occasion use the list for something other than a newsletter. I only did that once, for a phone number change. I even made it cute. Remember, always delight, if you can.

So, ring in the new year with a kinder, gentler list that drives happy customers to your door and doesn’t drive other people away.

For some more sage advice, read Seth Godin’s recent Eight Email Failures.

(Image: David Fulmer / Flickr / Creative Commons)

If you want to get someone’s attention…

good 'ole fashioned snail mail

Even as I help people unlock and articulate what makes them unique, there’s a simple truth that goes beyond crafting the perfect brand.

It’s about showing you give a damn.

It’s even better when it’s unexpected.

Maybe it’s a gift where a gift would seem surprising.

Maybe it’s helping a client to take a risk where you know they’ll benefit.

Maybe it’s fantastic customer service where people have stopped thinking they’ll get it.

Maybe it’s a personal note to one person even though you serve many just like her.


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Something More

Pick me!


If all you have is the desire to get picked, that’s not sufficient.


Wandering the aisles at a craft show a while back, I was surprised that the same styles and motifs appeared over and over. Most likely, each artist thought of himself as different. But why didn’t anyone want to stand out, especially in a creative industry?

It is said that there are very few original ideas. But there’s plenty of room for a different kind of originality. Put two or more existing ideas together to form a new product or service. Put a new spin on an old idea. Use your voice. If you’re an independent business owner and you’re not putting your unique voice to work, you’re overlooking the one tool you have that no one else does.

What is something more? Continue reading

You Can Have Ideals AND a Brand

A recent article in the NY Times about branding your psychotherapy practice sent readers into despair over what they saw as a selling out and a ruining of the profession. They questioned the author’s quick fix solutions and her training and commitment. I might not have panicked as the author did after only three months with no clients, but most readers didn’t see themselves as business people. As if that would diminish the care they delivered.

Branding, at its core, is defining in a deliberate way what differentiates you from others, making it easier for people to find you and make informed decisions about buying your product or service.

Branding, by itself, doesn’t compromise ideals; at its best, it reinforces them.

People in professions driven by ideals can suffer from viewing their services as too precious to be tainted by deliberate business activity.

But in the case of therapists, in order to heal, they have to get people in the door. The care starts before a client walks through the door by making it easier for them to find and choose the best person to work with. The challenge then is to describe who you help and what your philosophy is in their terms, not yours.

The resistance is understandable.

A fear of new territory.

A fear of more work.

A fear of taking a stand.

It’s far easier to think your work should speak for itself. But if you really help people through your work, you have to put your ideals to work in ways you hadn’t considered before.

Elegance: The Forgotten Small Stuff

In any project or effort, there is big vision, small details and everything in between. It all matters, but it’s the details that are most noticed by the end user.

Well, not so much noticed as felt. This is an important distinction.

What is felt is delight…or annoyance. Clarity…or confusion. Satisfaction…or stupidity.

It would be one thing if the customer intellectualized what didn’t work. But most often, they feel lazy, tired or stupid. In The Design of Everyday Things, author Donald Norman explains that people tend to blame themselves when something doesn’t work, even if the flaw is in the design.

In this great TED talk, ad guru Rory Sutherland describes with humor the bad decisions businesses and organizations foist on unsuspecting customers. Continue reading

Uncomplicate Your Marketing Strategy: Be There

Recently I walked into a favorite local plant nursery. They had compost tea on special, there was an edible gardening workshop, new plants had just arrived, and, best of all, they had free cookies and coffee. The place was a swarm of goodness and I wanted people to know about it. Continue reading