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Along with selling, marketing is one of the soft skills every freelancer and businessman has to learn. Only by honing your marketing skills, your freelance career or business will not just survive, but thrive. In this article, we will discuss two sides of marketing, how to tailor our message to customers, how to be viewed as an expert, how to unlock people’s hearts, what are archetypes and also explore the Tao of pricing. Are you ready to improve your soft skills of marketing?
All parts of the 7 Soft Skills Every Freelance Web Designer Must Have series:
7 Soft Skills Every Freelance Web Designer Must Have Pt6-Marketing
Soft Skill No.6: Marketing
Before we dive into individual tips on how to boost your marketing and soft skills, we need to make one thing clear. In the world of marketing, there is a tension between two groups of people. One group sees marketing as art. The second group sees marketing as science. Who is right? Well, both.
Marketing as Art
Marketing, as a discipline from the family of soft skills, can be indeed an art. And, just like with any other art, or skill, you have to learn the basics. You have to invest your time and get the fundamentals right. Theory is something your can’t afford to avoid or ignore. Only when you internalize the necessary knowledge, you can move to practice. And, the more you practice it in the right way, the better you will get at it. It is also through this practice you will sharpen your “marketing” eyes and ears – ability to intuitively distinguish between good and bad marketing.
It is one thing to work on your intuition and ability to “know” how good marketing looks like. No matter how sharp your soft skills are, intuition will get you so far. You also need to know how to improve your current marketing strategy with the use of data and the feedback they will give you.
Marketing as Science
This is where the scientific part of marketing comes into play. This is another layer of marketing that is focused more on analysis, data and numbers (you need some soft skills too).You put in some data, analyze them and, then, use the results to either continue or pivot. You also can, and should, use these data to prove your client that your work brings tangible results. Without these data, everything is only unfounded assumption. Unfortunately, clients don’t like such assumptions. And, this is the reason why I think that marketing is both, art and science
Soft Skills Academy for Improving Marketing Skills
Before diving deeper into soft skills academy, let’s make one think clear. We are not going to focus on the hard, scientific, part of marketing today. Instead, I’m going to give you rather more general tips on how to improve your marketing soft skills. As a result, you don’t need to know any analytics software or language for big data analysis to benefit from this article. Why? This subject of marketing as science is very extensive. We will tackle it in one of the future articles. We will focus on the “softer” side of marketing (aka the title 7 Soft Skills Every Freelance Web Designer Must Have).
Forget I, Think They
What is one of the mistakes we (at least I) often do when we are trying to sell something? The answer is that we often approach our offer from the view of “we” or “I”. Meaning, when thinking about a copy or sale pitch, we often think about ourselves. Why “I” think you should buy it. What benefits do “I” see. What problems do “I” think it is solving. What features do “I” see in this or that product. What “I” consider the coolest thing about this or that. Let me give you an example.
Unfortunately, customers often don’t share the same enthusiasm for these features. In a fact, many customers will don’t understand more than half of the features I mentioned. For many them, all I said may sound like a foreign language. What do you think will happen when customers are not able to understand your message? In the vast majority of cases, they will simply don’t buy the product. You don’t need to have a broad set of soft skills or degree in psychology or sociology to understand this. Common sense is enough.
Now, imagine the same situation, but with a little bit different conditions. In this scenario, you have precise idea of who your ideal customer is. Thanks to this clarity, you have a much better idea of how to create winning marketing strategy to promote your product. As a result, your chances to get more sales are much higher. So, what makes the biggest difference between web designer in the first example and web designer in the second? The difference is actually in their soft skills. They use change of perspective (we discussed this previous part of 7 Soft Skills) and empathy to see the product through the eyes of their ideal customer.
In order to improve your marketing skills, you need to train this ability. You must be able to silence the designer or developer inside you and look through eyes of customer. As the heading says, you have to start think “they” instead of “I”. How? First, you have to understand what pains, that your customers really have, your product is solving. Second, don’t talk about features. Your customers don’t care about the features of your product or service. Instead, describe the benefits they will gain. We discussed this in 7 Deadly Mistakes To Avoid in Landing Page Design article.
Third, use the language of your customers, literally and figuratively. In other words, use language(s) your customers are speaking and use words that are easy for them to understand. If your target group of customers or clients is using some kind of jargon or industry-specific vocabulary, go ahead and do the same. Use these words and phrases in your pitch and materials. By doing so, it will be easier for you to forge new connections between you and your customers or clients. You will also appear more trustworthy.
Fourth, put it all together and use your soft skills, such as empathy, to make your pitch sound human. Avoid anything that looks like stolen from teleshopping. Remember, you are selling yourself and your services to people. So speak like them – describe tangible benefits they will gain instead of features, use “you” (maybe “we”) not “I”.
Creating Common Ground
We are naturally attracted to people with same interests as we have. This is why it will be always easier to find new friends in a group of people sharing the same interest than random group of people on the street. Before you even open your mouth that specific interest already created some kind of a “meta” bond. This interest will also help you in case you are out of ideas for conversation. Just talk about that interest! You can’t make a mistake because this interest is the reason that the people are in the group. So it is unlikely they will don’t want to talk about it.
Now, let’s apply this psychology on freelancer-client relationship. Okay, having common interests with people will help us connect with them. That’s easy to understand. However, what about the trustworthiness part? When you approach potential client, for him or her, in most cases, you are a stranger. Unless you have something to support your claims about your experience and expertise, it is similar to stopping someone on the street and pitching him your web design services. In couple big cities, you would be lucky to not get punched in the face.
Elsewhere, you will be lucky if the person will pay you any attention at all. One way to overcome this is by showing the person that you have experience in working in this or that industry. This is done by using industry-specific vocabulary or jargon. You can think about this jargon as a secret language known only to insiders. It is similar to University clubs and societies – every member has to learn specific phrase or handshake that will guarantee him access to the club. If you don’t know this “password”, you will not get inside. And, what if you know the “password”?
Not only you will get inside this specific club or association on this location. You will also be able to visit other branches of this club on other places, even though nobody there knows you. What matters is that you have the key – know the “password”. In the world of freelancing and business, this “password” comes in the form of jargon, best practices and also contacts. Knowing any of these things will move you one step closer to potential clients and work as a proof of your expertise.
Conclusion? If you decided to focus on specific niche, don’t be afraid to use jargon in your materials (business card, website copy, social media bio, message in voicemail, etc.) and pitch. Although it is often advised to avoid using any terms known only to the industry insiders, this advice is no longer valid if you are speaking to a specific group of people. In that situation, a better idea might be to do the opposite and go for edges. Meaning, flooding your materials with industry jargon can turn out to be helpful. How can this work?
Well, the “no jargon here” general advice is mentioned mostly in relation to generic group of clients, when there is no more detailed segmentation. This approach to marketing has couple flaws and we will discuss them later on in Good for Everyone, Great for No One section. In other words, if you want to catch any fish in the sea, you may want to use bait that will be attractive to the highest number of fish. By the way, this one of the worst approaches not only to fishing, but also to marketing and freelancing (that’s why this series on soft skills is here).
So, if you exactly who you want to focus on with your marketing effort, find out as much about the industry as you can. You have to become an expert not only on what you do, say web design. You also have to become an expert on the industry of your clients. You have to give the impression that you are in client’s industry for years, even though you are “only” designing and building website. When you achieve this, people will be more likely to see you as someone who already has some experience not just in web design, but also in the industry of your client. In the eyes of the client, this makes you almost perfect hire.
Attention for all web designers! There is an exception to this “jargon allowed” advice. Unless you are designing and building websites for other web designers or agencies, lower the occurrence of web design jargon in your pitch and materials. Otherwise, you are running at risk that the people reading these materials will not understand them. Would you hire someone if you don’t know what is he doing? Probably not. So, get rid of the web design jargon and replace it with jargon of your client. Remember, it is just not about what you are selling, but to whom you are selling.
Key to the People’s Heart
What do you think makes a great advertisement? Actors? Director? CGI? What do you think makes a great photography? Scenery? Lighting? Colors? No, you are still not there. The most important factor in both of these examples, and also any other, is story. It is the story that makes us want something. It is the story that creates connection between us and something. For example, when you see photography of a child in the middle of the city devastated by war, it is not the child itself or the scenery that has the biggest influence.
What makes such a strong impression on your mind and heart is the story of the child you consciously or unconsciously think about. When you take a look at some photo, your brain will automatically create narrative for it. Then, your brain will allow you to experience this story on your own skin (figuratively speaking). It is through this story that you create a deeper connection to a certain object. This principle applies to advertisements and almost anything around us.
For example, take a random photo in magazine. Do you feel any connection? Probably not. Now, take a photo of you and your parents or friend. Has anything changed? Probably yes. You probably may feel joy, happiness, excitement, love or any other emotion. Interestingly, the object is still the same – a photography. The only thing that has changed is the story behind the photo. It is this story what makes photo of you and your parents or friend more important.
All this is great, but showing pictures of you and your parents will probably not boost your marketing efforts. Although, it is possible that it can improve your soft skills in the terms of empathy. Anyway, how to bring this power of stories to marketing and freelancing? In a short, you have to become a storyteller. Meaning, instead of just describing the benefits and experience of your previous clients, tell stories. Use every project, whether personal or for client, and craft a unique story about it. This story will always compose of at least three parts.
The first part is called “beginning”. In case of web design, you describe what the client’s website originally looked like and what results it had. Second part is what I call the “struggle”. This is a place for you to describe your design process that lead to the new design. As the name says, this part is not a place to talk only about the things that went well. Rather the opposite. Give reader the chance to look under the hood and give him the raw story. Don’t be afraid to talk at length about all the issues and challenges you have had to deal with on the way to epiphany.
This will show the reader, and potential clients, that you are not afraid of challenges. It will also show the reality of your work, especially its more difficult aspects often hidden from the sight. Just think about the “struggle” as a chance to give people sneak peek to your daily work. The third, and last, part is called “salvation”. Here, your job is to describe the benefits your work brought to your client. A good way to do this is to compare the “before” and “after”. For example, you can show growth in daily visits, conversions, decreased bounce rate, higher number of sessions, etc.
Again, remember to focus on benefits other clients would want to get as well. Otherwise, no matter how descriptive and immersive the story will be, it will have little to no effect. Follow these three-step processes and there you have a great case study you can present on your portfolio!
Another way to make your marketing strategy better and your message stronger is by using archetypes. Archetypes are a concept created by Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. In marketing, you can use archetype based on psychology and symbolism to create certain perception of your brand. Archetypes are used to put your brand against something iconic. This is something that is already rooted in the conscious and subconscious of humanity. As a result, archetype makes it easier for you to create specific identity for your brand and also for customers to identify with it.
In the world of marketing, there are twelve archetypes you can use in your marketing strategy. These archetypes are sage, innocent, explorer, hero, ruler, creator, caregiver, magician, outlaw, lover, jester and regular guy (or girl). Each of these archetypes comes with specific goal, desire, fear, talent, weakness, motto and so on. As you may guess, each of this archetype will appeal in a different way to different people. For example, rebel will not work well with customers caring about stability and tradition or power. These people will not be interested in your offer.
So, if you decide to embody one of the archetypes into your marketing strategy, think twice about who is your customer. Otherwise, your choice may do you more harm than good. If you are interested in this subject, I suggest that you take a look at The 12 brand archetypes all successful businesses are built on article on Sparkol. Very good book about this subject of archetypes is The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes by Margaret Mark.
Good for Everyone, Great for No One
This lesson will probably be a little bit uncomfortable for some people reading this. However, this lesson is too important for your marketing skills and career or business to be omitted. In order to create really great product, it is often better to focus on specific group of people. In other words, don’t try to be good for mainstream. Instead, find people who will love your product or service and focus your marketing efforts on them. Two examples of companies who are using this approach in their marketing strategy are Apple And Harley-Davidson.
Both, Apple and Harley-Davidson, are focusing all their efforts to speak to relatively small group of people. Well, in case of Apple this group is a little bit larger and growing faster than in case of Harley-Davidson. Still, both of these companies are made not being for everyone their advantage. One can argue that it is not such a good idea to ignore bigger percentage of the market. Doing so, you are leaving potential profits on the table. This may and may not be true.
First, yes you are right. By ignoring a percentage of the market you might be leaving money on the table … Under certain condition. This condition is your pricing model. Here is what I mean by that. The vast majority of companies selling for mainstream customers are using economy pricing or marginal-cost pricing. This, in plain English, means that products and services for mainstream customers are charged with relatively low prices. This makes mainstream products affordable for higher percentage of potential customers than products sold for premium prices.
This marketing strategy of going for mainstream has couple downsides. First, due to low prices, your have to sell higher greater amount of products to cover the costs. Second, it put constraints on how high you can set your margins. If you set margins too high, product may become less affordable and you will lose some of your customers. Third, due to low prices, you have to choose materials you will use for your products very carefully. Otherwise, you are risking increase of production costs which can be balanced mostly by increasing the price of your product.
Fourth, mainstream products often lack any option of being customized for a specific customer. Sure, this can be said about many premium products as well. For example, you would probably have a hard time convincing people in Apple store to create one unique model of iPhone just for you. Still, many premium products do offer some variety. For example, even though you will not get your custom iPhone, you can at least choose from premade variants. You can choose different colors – silver, gold, space gray, gold and rose gold.
You can also choose from different size of memory. You can get 16GB, 32GB or 64GB. In case of Harley-Davidson, you can use company’s special program to choose exclusive parts and build your one-of-a-kind motorcycle. Another example of highly-customizable products are computers made by Dell. In this case, you can choose anything, from CPU to notebook chassis. Try to get the same service for some of the mainstream sellers or manufactures.
The fifth and last downside of mainstream products is that it is much harder for them (manufactures) to create and sustain base of enthusiastic fans. How many times have you seen someone with t-shirt “I love Windows!” or “I love Microsoft”? Or … How many times have you seen queue of people over two blocks waiting for next Microsoft Surface? By the way, how many people do you think know what these products are? Now, let’s switch again to Apple. Well, I haven’t seen any “I love Apple!” t-shirt yet.
However, I saw a ton of “Think Different” and Apple logo wallpapers and poster. I also saw crowds of people waiting for the chance to buy the latest iPhone, iPad, Mac or MacBook. Also, mention some product made by Apple in front of someone on the street and chances are they will know what are you talking about. Next, go to a bookstore and look for books about Microsoft. Then, do the same and look for books about Apple … Or Steve Jobs. By the way, the secret behind the success of Steve Jobs is in his soft skills. Jobs was master at marketing, selling and critical thinking.
I almost forgot! What about Starbucks? Caffé Americano, which is basically regular espresso with hot water, costs between $1.75 and $2.40. Now, take more mainstream product such as Nescafe Clasico Instant Coffee (100g). You can get this one in Wallmart for less than $4 and will be enough for preparing fifty cups, depending on how much coffee do you use. If you do the math, one cup of Nescafe will cost around $0.08. As you can see, the pricing is completely different.
Still, there is the same problem as we have with Microsoft … Nobody will sleep on the street to get the new version of Nescafe Clasico Instant Coffee. Also, there will be only a bunch of people who will recommend this coffee to their friends or family. On the other hand, when someone will invite you to coffee, will you think about instant Nescafe or the nearest Starbucks?
Let’s take this “good for everyone, great for no one” even farther. How many times have you seen people with tattoos of Microsoft, Dell, Nestle, Honda, Ford, Proctor & Gamble or Wallmart? Personally, I’ve never seen such a tattoo in my life. On the other hand, what about Harley-Davidson? Or, another, much younger, company Spartan Race? In these cases, people around Spartan Race are almost famous for their tattoos of company’s logo. The same can be said about some owners of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
This effect is achievable only if you are willing to focus your product or service and marketing efforts on a specific group of customers and ignore the mainstream. There is literally no way you can appeal to all tastes of all people and have something Seth Godin called “remarkable”. I will dedicate future article to this topic to teach you everything you will need to make your products and marketing remarkable.
Let’s close this section with crashing the argument about leaving money on the table. The truth is that, in case of many premium products, companies are not leaving money on the table. Do you remember the comparison of the price of one Starbucks Caffé Americano to one cup of Nescafe Clasico Instant Coffee? The average for Americano is around $2, cup of Nescafe is around $0.08. The difference is $1.92, in the favor of Starbucks. Now, show me where exactly is Starbucks leaving money on the table. Do you see what I mean?
When you sell premium products or services (not mainstream), you are selling for premium prices. These prices are much higher than mainstream. As a result, you reach higher profit although you are selling to a smaller percentage of customers. You can think about it as doing only handful of premium freelance gigs a year versus doing dozens or hundreds of low-budget projects. As a premium freelancer, you have less clients and work and less projects, but you charge much higher fees. In other words, one project and you don’t have to work for two months.
So, here it is. The number one thing I though I will never say … Find your niche. Mainstream marketing will work only so far. This edgy marketing we were talking about will take you much farther. The only question is … Are you willing to risk losing some customers in exchange for positioning yourself as a premium freelancer? Or, will you rather be girl for everything and everyone working for a quick buck?
Full disclosure: I’m not in any relationship with any of the companies mentioned in this part.
Price and Psychology
Let’s consider following scenario. I will give you three things. Object A will be completely for free. You will not pay me anything. Object B will cost you nine dollars. In order to get the object C you will have to pay me seven hundred dollars. My questions is, assuming there is no special connection to any these objects, “which of them will have the highest value for you?” What object will you appreciate and care about more? If all these objects have similar and there is no deeper emotional connection between them and you, your answer is likely to be … The third one.
This decision, if true, is quite rational – since you paid more for object C, you will act according to that. You will value it higher, in many cases use it more often, and care about it more. What will happen with the other objects? Object B (nine dollars) will probably end up used occasionally until you decide to throw it out, donate or give it to someone. And object A (free)? The destiny of the object A is pretty much unknown. Soon after receiving it, you lose interest in it. So, it will probably end up in cabinet or some dark corner under a pile of dust.
Please note that the results may from object to object. One of the possible exceptions are objects given to us from family, friends, someone we like or admire. Then, value of the object is influenced by our emotions. This will result in creating stronger attachment to the object. By the way, have you heard about detachment in sense of philosophy? Anyway, what’s the point of this mental exercise? I wanted to show you how price is influencing your relationship with things. Understand, it is proven that our appreciation of things is in direct proportion to its value (often monetary).
The consequent lesson for every freelance web designer and developer is this, “don’t sell yourself, your products and your services cheap.” The lower price you will charge, the less respect will you get. Also, your work is more likely to be perceived as less valuable. If you don’t believe it, imagine you would pay web designer one thousand dollars to design and build new website for you. What quality would you expect to receive? You would probably don’t accept anything less than great or exceptional. Interestingly, the same will be reflected in designer’s approach to the work.
In other words, the more you pay, the better services you will receive. Sure, this doesn’t mean that when you pay web designer four hundred dollars, he will spend ninety percent of the time playing angry birds and the remaining ten putting together something that can be described as average website. Still, in case of cheaply priced work, this scenario is often not too far from truth.
So, again, if you want to change how your clients perceive you, there are couple things you can work on. Your price is one of those things. What’s more, adjusting your price is easier and faster than expanding your pool of hard and soft skills. Think about it. How long will it take to learn new programming language, framework or library? Now, compare it with doing small-scale research to find out the right price. How to find the right price? One option is to find equilibrium between supply and demand on the web design market.
In plain English, find a sweet spot between how much you can charge and how much are your clients willing to pay you. How to do it? Increase your rates as long as your current and prospective clients will be willing to hire you without any objections. When they become reluctant to accept your offer, go one step back. Now, you have your sweet spot.
Closing Thoughts on Soft Skills
This is the end of 7 Soft Skills Every Freelance Web Designer Must Have Part 6. Today, you’ve learned about tips to improve your marketing skills and create a message that will resonate with prospective clients and customers. If I could leave you with only two most important takeaways, it would be these. First, focus on your clients and customers. It is not about you (I) but them (they). Second, don’t be good for everyone. Mainstream is not the best place for you.
Instead, find the segment or group of clients or customers that will love what you do and be great for them. Make sure to provide them with outstanding service and products. And, sooner or later, these people will no longer be just your clients or customers, they will become your fans. When this happens, you will see people talking about you and recommending you to their friends. In other words, you will see word-of-mouth marketing in action. There is nothing more powerful, in the terms of marketing or soft skills in general, than this, for your business.
All you need is patience. Remember, soft skills will are only one part of success. The second one is showing up daily and doing the work.
What will be the topic of the last part of 7 Soft Skills Every Freelance Web Designer Must Have? The last skill we will talk about is improvisation. It will be a great way to close this series about soft skills and transforming you into better freelance web designer.
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