Steve: The reason you and I have talked about this subject so much, or at least the reason I’ve introduced this or raised this with you, is because this is probably the biggest conundrum, the biggest problem I’ve wanted to crack through my entire professional life. I didn’t understand what the problem was for most of the time, but almost from the beginning I anticipated that I might exit my corporate career. I was going to run a traditional corporate career for as long as it could go, but if things didn’t work out, I’d exit and always thought, oh, wouldn’t it be great to have all the freedom of a freelancer, and then all the luxuries of corporate life. So, I believe that striking out on my own was the way to get that done.
The mistake was I didn’t give a lot of attention to how to attract clients and engagements, and I only knew my trade skills, how to do my work. And so that’s how years, and I almost don’t want to admit, decades clicked by, life just happening, but not knowing how does this work. How are other people out there surviving, and I’m still here on the sidelines in my regular job. I would also like between sort of self-criticism to well this is just something that needs to be solved.
Now, weirdly enough there’s got to be a lot of people out there that are really laughing now who, like come on man this is obvious. Everybody is out there thriving. This has got to be kind of second nature to them and not even under consideration, but I wanted to get this out there cause I have a hunch that I’m not the only one. That there’s probably other people who either want to jump or have already jumped and but yet still haven’t totally got it down to a rhythm where it’s relatively straight forward to attract engagements into their professional life. And so yeah for me this is the key. This is for me this is everything. I can talk about this forever on all the different ways to solve this. We have solved a lot of it. So yeah, for me, that’s my story it’s been the big limiter of my professional life.
Daniel: So on the one hand, it seems obvious, if you want to be self-employed you need clients. Although, I want to excuse a little bit of that because there’s a distinction between being self-employed and running a business. They are often treated as synonymous.
There are so many people that will say that if you’re self-employed you’re running a business you have to think like you’re running a business. Well they’re saying the same thing we are. You have to think about all the consideration that are necessary in running a business like attracting clients and maintaining your taxes, and building a brand and all of that. But not everybody that wants to work for themselves really wants to create the entity, maintain the corporate minutes, and all the nonsensical paperwork and accounting jazz. But they want to go to work where it’s on a 1099 basis or what have you. And in that sense increasingly the business has become symbolic. I see all these people that say well I’m John Smith and I’ve started John Smith LLC. I’m like okay great so you’ve basically done is saddled yourself with all of the headaches of running an entity but has your business grown as a result of naming yourself John Smith LLC verses John Smith? There is a point to be made there, which is skills aren’t enough.
The skill to being brilliant at trade skill is important but skills aren’t enough for two reasons. Number one is you have to prioritize attracting clients. When somebody says everybody is a business that’s really what they mean is it’s not make sure you do your accounting it’s to take yourself seriously as a self-employed individual or somebody that gets work on the side if you side hustle while you maintain your job. You’re gonna have to prioritize attracting clients over everything. You’re gonna have to prioritize. And that magic buzzword immediately sort of shuts people down. I’m not a sales guy, I’m afraid of selling. And we’re going to be addressing that in future episodes of the podcast but in helping people solve precisely that problem. We’re not going to say everybody but everybody has to think about how do I get.
This is the first question I want to ask you. It strikes me that in order to get clients, you’ve said to me in the past, that you need sort of have a frame for your trade skill. Trade skills aren’t enough but without a trade skill you can attract. But simply saying I have this trade skill isn’t enough either. You need to frame that trade skill as a problem solution. You need to think about what people’s needs are, how what your trade skill does meets that need or solves a clear problem. You need to get as clear and specific about the problem you’d like to solve and find a way to communicate that and show that [inaudible 00:05:12]. That seems to be the core … that becomes synonymous with attracting [inaudible 00:05:19] or at least the raison de tur, the reason for, same meaning essentially. But what do you think about?
Steve: Well that’s foundational. It’s a starting point, it’s a pre-requisite. And that alone, being able to reduce down everything about our career and our professional life down to something more simplistic that others can understand is something that, I think, a lot of people have a hard time with. I mean, you see that in resume feedback. You see it in a business coaching. Like, hey, a customer is not going to understand, they can’t connect. They don’t know that you can solve their problem.
Steve: But also referencing, we were talking about business and moving between is it a group of people or a single person. When we talk about this thing about related selling whether you’re a single person or working with a team, either in a collaboration or as a company, there are business functions that I didn’t totally get, that have to be replicated. Which is we were shifting into, okay let’s talk about selling and what you need to do. Being able to articulate very clearly problems that you can solve is kind of a pre-requisite. But moving beyond that we still have the entire client acquisition or meeting people, finding people who need what we have and getting them to ask us to solve it for a price. That whole process is a large part of what a business does and I was starting out from the perspective ‘well, you know, this is what I can do operationally’. This is what I solve. This is my trade skill.
This goes back to I’m a huge fan of Michael Gerber and E-Myth. I believe it’s still valid, actually I think it’s more valid today than it was 20, 25 years ago when he was first coming out with it. His whole beef, his mission in life was to break this belief as I had. Ironically, I was a fan of Michael Gerber back then and I thought it only applied to businesses I didn’t get, ‘hey you gotta solve this if you’re going to go out solo or be an independent professional’. I thought there was some more magic to it. But anyway, his whole point is thousands, millions of people with some sort of specialty or trade skill experience have a build it and they will come or other people are able to do this surely if I just go out there and go for it, it will happen.
The big shift for me and this is what Gerber was saying also, is no, you actually have to think about this deliberately and really connect [inaudible 00:08:05] and if you can’t do that, if you can’t describe what problems you solve what kind of people you can solve them for, then they’re not gonna figure it out for you. And this is also true in just the regular traditional job market. If your resume is really vague and you put the burden on the other person who’s reading your resume to figure out what you can solve for them, you don’t get as many offers. That part is actually very similar to the job market. Going back to your point, yes, the starting point is to be able to reduce down a subset of what your professional life is to something that solves other peoples problems and is valuable to them to be solved.
Daniel: I also have a particular bias, I would say, against the problem of distraction. Because people hear this and they think yes I need to prioritize client acquisition. The immediate thought after we say that is that’s hard. It’s much easier to pay some guy to design a logo than it is to or get your resume in order again or whatever than it is or to build a website than it is to focus on client acquisition.
I knew a couple of guys that were IT server and software guys and they wanted to be independent professionals and they felt they were doing all the right things. So they rented a rather large office across from the coffee shop where we use to hang out. You’d watch them. They’d spend a lot of the time at the coffee shop talking about what the business was going to look like and their massive goals and everything. But mostly they rented an office and then they paid a lot for a sign. And then they did a logo and stationary and business cards and a new website and it went on and on. And you’d talk to them at the three month mark, and the six month mark, and the nine month mark, and the one year mark. So how’s it going? It’s like wow we’re making great progress. How many clients do you have? Well none yet but… They drank a lot of coffee during that time. I think the distractions tend to woo us away.
The first step is not to form an LLC, to create a logo, to open a bank account. The first step is client acquisition and I think …
What you kind of underscored as if step one is always client acquisition. That’s pretty standard wisdom among really successful entrepreneurs who are starting … serial entrepreneurs who are starting their fourth or fifth business. They say, “Look don’t build it until you have so many clients you’re forced to build it”. First …
Get the clients. Then the infrastructure … don’t open a giant restaurant that seats 400 when you don’t have one client. Have people backed up … Out the door and figure out how to expand. So I think you underscored an A and a B. If the first step is client acquisition. A, is research what your perspective audience’s pain points are and translate the need in something as specific as you can. And then B is to frame your trade skill as a solution to those core needs. So distractions for me are the enemy.
Steve: Yeah for sure. For some of us who have been, if we want to go out tomorrow, for example, my trade skill background, professional skill is project management related to implementation of HR payroll employee time enterprise apps. Kind of a narrow thing. For me it was pretty easy to understand what those pain points are as a fast exercise. But then the next step of actually doing it and finding those people, that was where falling off a cliff into a pit of darkness.
I remember years ago I read this post on entrepreneurial start ups and freelancing and it was focused on the whole spectrum of that type of professional freedom. The point of that post was you should be spending 40% of your time on sales development, new client relationships. And I get a holy smokes, really? 40% of our time is two days a week. If we imagine we normally earn a living by working five days a week and this new life I’ve got to earn a living off of the three days and the two days were basically developing new business. And that revealed a key flaw in thinking in myself, I think, which is when we’re on a job we’re used to earning a living off of five days a week and we’re used to billing at that lower rate. And so there’s some components in there, yeah you’ve got to bill so that your client acquisition process is covered. But also it’s not that we’re just marking up to earn more what we miss is that activity when we’re working with prospective clients on Tuesday and Thursday, in this example, that is value too that is worth paying for and I think we miss as non-sales professionals. That solving problems for other people, which is what the sales process does, has value in it. And not just service delivery once the sales is closed. There’s a whole bunch of things in there we could end up talking forever about but yeah this thing about spending enough of your time learning to do that finding those people. 40% of your schedule is recommended in that post. That’s kind of a hard nut to get your head around when you’re used to doing service delivery in a traditional job for five days a week, forty hours a week.
Daniel: So in summary, we’ve talked about the need to balance client acquisition as the top priority. Our topic today is prioritizing client acquisition and we’ll be dealing with some of the implications of that.
May contain transcriber errors.