The original version of this post was a response to a question about whether people actually run an offline marketing business from home. I think it got buried there, though a number of people did see and thank me for it (so I know it's valuable). I've added more details to it here.
I see people giving up too soon.
I see people jumping from lilypad to lilypad every month in search of "what's hot".
I see people who have no idea how to get clients.
Each of these errors completely destroys your credibility, and keeps you beginning over and over again from zero. This is why you never get anywhere, and why your business looks the same at six and twelve months (if you survive that long) as it did at the very start.
I am about to share with you everything I wish I had known at the beginning.
First, positioning is everything. If you look and sound like everyone else, you won't command good prices. And you need good pricing to succeed. Commodity pricing will only allow you to tread water...if you can get enough clients. You'll never take off in this state. To start doing well, you need to be able to afford marketing and help you simply cannot at the "barely scraping by, paying the monthly bills" level.
I routinely close mid-4-figure jobs without meeting the client face to face. And I mean 100% payment up front, not split up over a bunch of months. Whether they're in North America, Australia, Singapore or Ireland does not matter.
However, you have to have a certain infrastructure to do this, and newbies miss that. And I mean on the marketing AND fulfillment side. People have to see you're serious and legit. You are not going to be able to attract and get sales from clients in this range or higher if you don't differentiate yourself, and show you know how to solve specific problems.
This infrastructure I'm talking about means collateral on the marketing side, and clear ability to handle the load on the fulfillment side. This is the reason your average web designer cannot get $3000+ clients. Their marketing is poor, so they look like a template site provider lacking any sophistication. They can't talk about complex issues like EDI or getting different software programs like inventory, accounting and customer relationship management to talk to one another, so the prospect knows they don't have the skills to solve their problem. The picture provided is someone without enough "Oomph" to do the job. The prospect sees that right away, and turns the commodity designer away at the door.
When I worked as Business Development Manager for a boutique IT firm, we had to bill $60,000 a MONTH to break even. (Don't forget about taxes. They'll kill you if you aren't careful. Taxes are built into this figure.) This was with a staff of five plus a working owner. Do you think we could do that with $300 template sites?? With $250/month managed services contracts? Of course not. Pursuing projects at that level would have been a total waste of our time. What's interesting is I don't remember ever being called up and asked by a prospect for pricing on one. A typical project was $30,000 and up, lasting four to six months.
Our marketing collateral, which they are still using, was a series of white papers. The owner wrote the first one, and I wrote the rest. Infrastructure, as I said. Well, that's part of the marketing arm.
Working alone from home? There's nothing stopping you from developing collateral like this. It could be a video. It could be a pdf. It could be an audio. Whatever it is, do it once, set and forget. Bring new content out regularly. This is why I have Amazon/Kindle reports. They are NOT to make money (what, 33 cents is gonna change my life?!). And my blog. It's all part of the infrastructure that shows prospects "Wow, this guy knows about sales!" Do my competitors have anything like that? Oh, maybe one Kindle product...and a blog that hasn't been updated this quarter. Or nothing but a templated website.
What kind of an impression do you believe either of those situations gives prospects?
Do you think I have to argue about price?
Whenever people start asking "can I do this?"-type questions, I always respond:
You will find two kinds of people out there.
Type 1 > Those who are OK with hiring others to do work without ever meeting them, and don't care where the sub is located
Type 2 > Those who will never do this, because they are looking for world class talent living down the block from their office.
Your job as a marketer is to identify which type you are dealing with, and get rid of Type 2 as fast as possible because they are a waste of your time.
No amount of persuading, cajoling, and convincing will ever make Type 2 hire you. But Type 1 is used to hiring remote workers.
So task #1 of your marketing is to separate Type 2 from Type 1 prospects, and get conversations started with Type 1.
Second, growth does not occur linearly.
Stop thinking linearly. It doesn't work that way. It's exponential. You start small and no one knows you exist. And it appears to stay that way for awhile.
Use more than one marketing method. I've used phone prospecting, emails, Youtube videos, low and high-end IM offers (guess what, the high end worked better--for both me and the clients...maybe you can guess why), Kindle/Amazon books, bids on freelance sites (which can be quite valuable when you don't follow the herd, and sort very carefully so you spend your energy on the right prospects), media interviews, and even made custom membership sites for high-value prospects as knock-'em-over-the-edge presentations. Test. Some will work more effectively than others. Do you see how all this builds up the marketing infrastructure I talked about above? Develop a funnel that works.
As a contractor, your biggest problem (although you probably don't know it yet) is the time required to be both the Sales & Marketing arm AND the Fulfillment arm of your business. When you get work, you will be severely tempted to drop the marketing activities and concentrate fully on fulfillment. This is a mistake. Make sure you are continuing to steadily do marketing activities every day, whether you feel like it or not. You must always be bringing in and processing more leads. If you stop marketing & qualifying, your business will stop. And when you're done doing the job you fought to earn, you will be back to square one. If you had kept marketing, you could have another client all lined up and ready to go--and you'd be much more relaxed while doing the prospecting and qualifying, because you already had work.
The growth is exponential in this business. Nobody knows who you are for a long time. Nearly everyone gives up or leaps to the next lillypad where the next shiny object is waiting. Remember it doesn't work that way. It appears nothing much is happening for a long time, and then suddenly the results leap up!
Say the vertical axis is your revenue, and the horizontal is time passing.
People don't think exponentially. So they believe business should grow linearly. Only it doesn't. So when the revenue doesn't grow 2, 4, 6, 8, etc. they get confused, discouraged and quit.
That makes the line go back to the beginning. 0,0. No, that's not a text face. That's a screw-up. Every time you quit and start over, you're forcing that graph right back to zero.
Growth actually happens exponentially. Nothing seems to change for a long while. Then suddenly results skyrocket: you pass that critical point. People you've never heard of or talked to before start contacting you. You are known for what you do. But give up too soon and you'll never get there.
You've probably heard of Dan Kennedy. I've been reading his books since 1994 when I found some in my college library. There's a DK quote I remember to this day: "I'm an overnight success--after 30 years"! (This is a headline in one of his books; I just looked it up).
See that gap between the red and green lines? That's the difference between your expectations and reality...no wonder reality falls short, huh? And you give up.
This is the problem with the "What's hot this month?" crowd. They shoot themselves in the foot, resetting their credibility and effectiveness to zero, every month.
I wish more people understood this about running your own business. They give up almost at the beginning. I've been doing this for two and a half years and only over the last six months, during which I have been entirely focused on pricing and finding the right clients, has it really started to take off. And I'm GOOD at what I do. My business is an OBSESSION. If you're unskilled, lazy and unfocused, how do you ever think you're going to make it?
What I am doing now is NOT the same as what I was doing two years ago...or even six months ago. The kind of clients I have now are not the same. The problems I am solving are not the same. Sure, the basics--sales training + copywriting--are there as tools...but the work I'm doing, and who I'm doing it for, has changed all along the journey. If a year goes by and you're still doing the same things for the same people, don't be shocked that your business is stagnating.
I used to think dealing with 40 clients a month was good. I used to think having a calendar booked wall-to-wall was great. I used to think that an ultra-high activity level, working on my business 100% of the time, was the right approach. And I know many of you would (metaphorically) kill to be in this position. But it's a mistake and a trap.
Nowadays I work with 4 or fewer clients a month. Instead of rushing to try and help too many people, I can concentrate on getting stellar results for a few. I'm much more relaxed, because I can pick and choose when I work and when to have downtime. I hadn't realized how valuable downtime is. And the key to all this has been Price.
Do not neglect Pricing now. I mean as a newbie, and as an experienced provider. Pricing is key to your business. It directs everything: who you talk to, what work you will do for them, how much money you will make. Price yourself small, and you'll find yourself with tons of competition, fighting for lousy little projects that have no impact, and dealing with miserly, whining clients who want the moon for nothing.
The right price attracts people who are well-funded. It attracts people who understand commitment. Who already deliver a great product or service, and are earning more money every month than they need to cover expenses. This is who you want.
Very few people understand this, and operate from the scared/scarcity mindset.
"But I'm new! How can I charge what I'm worth?"
And watch this video:
If you price too low, you'll never escape the month-to-month scrounging necessary to meet your bills. You'll never have money for anything else, like paid advertising or a spruced-up marketing piece. You NEED this kind of boost to take your business to the next level. And worst of all, you'll become known (if you stick it out) as the "low budget writer".
I almost got stuck as the "low budget sales trainer". Almost. It took me the better part of a year to wean myself off the kind of clients I knew how to get...the game I knew how to play well. But that game plateaued revenue-wise very early on, and I had to work with so many clients it split my energy up too much. Now I work with only a handful of clients every month, and can concentrate completely upon them. Again, to get there I had to take the scary step of giving up the business model and income stream I understood well. It was a rocky road. Nobody tells you this stuff.
Position & price yourself correctly and you will get interesting projects which can make an impact--and from which you can get case study results--clients who value you and treat you well, and more money than you need--which gives you a feeling of total relief.
Designing websites for $500 won't do that. Training people to sell for $297 won't do that. Writing $5 articles won't do that.
I'll give you a writing example. I do two things for money: copywriting and sales training. I don't talk much about the writing here because sales training is what took off for me in this marketplace. When I moved to the US, I wasn't allowed to work for a long time while going through immigration. When I finally was able to work, I picked up a writing client paying $200 per 600 word technical article. Now the key here, why this was worth so much and why they could afford me, is their product pricing. The equipment they were selling was worth $500+, often many thousands of dollars, so they could easily afford a solid investment in my writing. The key of why I got the work is my technical background: I know a lot about engineering, electronics and how things work, so when I wrote I wasn't copping together BS from other writers that I didn't really understand. I was writing from the authority of knowing exactly what I was talking about.
I wrote several articles a month for them. It wasn't rent money, but it was steady work and a heck of a lot better than scrounging and competing with bottom-of-the-barrel writers for $5 articles. You'd have to write FORTY $5 articles to hit $200. That's crazy. That lead to a full-color spread in a business directory, that got me regional coverage. Eventually the company got bought by another, similar but larger firm, and I could have done all of their writing, too. No questioning about fees. I did that for a short time but was offered a senior management position with an Inc. Top 1000 firm and took that as my full time role. So there wasn't any time left for article writing. And I don't do article writing anymore; just copywriting, because that's where the real money, impact and results I can get are.
Now the critical takeaway I want you to understand here while your eyes are bedazzled by dollar signs is this: you have to have some kind of knowledge that puts you above the herd. Am I the only writer who has the technical know-how to write those articles? Of course not. But I'm the only one who had the knowledge AND could write AND contacted them.
Now that's really not much, is it. But it's more than enough for you to stand out.
These are all things I wish I knew when I started.
Go think about Positioning. Niche down. Focus. How can you demonstrate this focus? Who will you solve problems for, and what problems will you solve for them so that you can get paid at the level you desire? This is how you get paid more. It could be a pdf, it could be a video, it could be a direct mail piece, it could be flying an airplane over their building, it could be a giraffe. Go do it now.
I won an email sequence bid at three times the price of the next bidder's by crafting a response sounding like it was in the voice of the client's BUYER. It took me maybe half an hour, and nobody else would bother to do anything like that. They'd just submit boilerplate garbage. Made my client well into five figures in return over the next month. That lead to a five-figure-priced launch project--yes, that required a signed contract, and that's what scanning and pdfs are for--that netted my client over half a million dollars in one week. And we're doing another launch now. Through a freelance site for the original email sequence job, folks. You have to know how to USE these sites, and spend your energy effectively. Never met my client in person. For the launch project, no competitors.
It doesn't take much to differentiate yourself. Keep in mind that everyone else, almost everyone else, is totally lazy. (This is something to think about, too: raise the bar of your competition. When your competition is striving, you have to strive...and you'll be gunning for better projects, I guarantee it). Your competitors are sitting around doing nothing, slinging the same boring proposals to every prospect...and then not doing a very good job in fulfillment. When I landed that article writing role, I didn't have anything except a free google sites website...and I'm not even sure they ever looked at it. And when it came to the writing, I delivered. My articles got SEO attention, attracted super-specific buyers looking for exactly that piece of equipment, and they bought because the company was able to present itself with my articles as a group of people who knew what they were talking about--before a salesperson ever got on the line with a customer. If they ever even had to.
All your credibility stems from YOU, and how you feel about yourself. Whatever head trash you have saying, "I'm only worth $X," that's what the world will give you. Figure out your focus. Use that differentiation to price yourself higher. Attract better projects and clients that way (Yes, they are out there). Fulfill well, and use these results as case studies for future prospects. Develop and continously run an effective sales & marketing funnel that works while you sleep--whether you feel like it or not.
DO NOT hop from shiny object to shiny object. I stick to two main things and have developed a ton of credibility in those spaces. All hopping does is send you back to zero. And 0,0 is the kiss of death unless your activity level is massive and focused.
Look at that exponential curve again. You have to be relentless. The good news: hardly anybody else is. You are in a world of lazy, lazy competitors who can't do what they say they will. It's easy to stand out.
Take blogging. How many people do you see stay consistent with their blog? Hardly anybody. A guy on Facebook runs a syndication page. Since January, how many people other than myself do you think have consistently stuck with their blog, sharing new content and participating with Liking and sharing articles from other people as they're supposed to for the group? NONE. People come, people go. People put in little dribs and drabs of effort. Are you one of those people? Is it any wonder you haven't seen much in the way of results?
BE CONSISTENT. Be consistent in your focus of products or services, your marketing, and your fulfillment. Start now.
PS. I forgot to mention one important thing. You MUST have mentors. You must reinvest in yourself. I have talked with several members of this forum, and other experts outside, for growing my business. EwenMack is one--I've had a couple calls with him. Dan McCoy is another. Another fellow named Randy Stuppard is someone I've discussed things with regularly. I also talk with current and past clients who are doing well, to find out what they're doing that's working and exchange info. Some are making more money than I am because they have a better business model, or are picking out better clients. It's smart to emulate what people who are performing better than you are doing.
Gulp and spend the $197 for the hour call or whatever it is, when you see someone you know can help you. It's a great investment. Thinking you can figure everything out yourself is an error. You are SO close to your business, it's hard to see the forest for the trees. That's what an outside perspective can give you: perspective. If you're unwilling to find mentors and invest--some of these calls WILL cost you money, but it's an investment and tax-deductible--then you will not make it.