I am a solopreneur. And I have a confession.
I gravely underestimated the effort it was going to take to have a steady stream of new clients.
I did the usual things that new solopreneurs do when they start a business. I worked for free to build a portfolio, spent hours upon hours in the local networking game, partnered with people I should not have, and I'm sure many more really stupid things I'd rather forget. What I can't forget is the experience of feeling so far off-course, so disconnected from the dream of working solo, I wanted to go back to work.
I made a slew of mistakes but the deep desire to solve real problems kept me moving forward.
In April of 2011 I decided to write about this topic and published it on biznik even though I was scared to death it wouldn't get attention or worse, those dreaded thumbs down.
It was one of those hurdles I had a hard time getting over, the fear of sharing my thoughts, having a voice and showing up in the online conversation.
Here is an updated version of the article. I share it with gratitude for all those who encouraged me with comments and kind words along the way, and for those who might stumble upon this in your difficult first years.
When you need new clients and don't know what to do, consider this.
Take your online marketing to the next level by developing a genuine curiosity in people. Try to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Ask questions. Ask with an open mind, a beginners mind, so you can see things from a fresh new angle.
Curiosity takes you out of your self-serving ideas and helps you see the world through a new lens.
Showing up starts at home, in your inner life. Connect with why you are doing the work you’ve chosen. I mean, seriously, you picked this. Out of all the jobs in the world, you gave your heart and soul to this.
Reclaim the passion that led you into your work. Own your inner wisdom and let it guide you.
Don't Get Distracted
How many blogs are you reading? How much time are you spending on Twitter and Facebook? For many small business owners the amount of time is insane.
Curiosity and learning new perspectives are the key to insight, but those outer places can be more distracting than empowering. Especially when we start comparing ourselves to people who seem to be growing faster in popularity, influence and business size.
Here's a great test to see if you’re being empowered or distracted: Ask yourself, “what do I want to be known for, what matters most?" Then look at what you’re reading. Is it helping you to be better at what you want to be known for - is it helping you to connect with something that really matters? Or is it primarily a habit of checking to see what others are saying?
You have to be really honest with yourself about what you do. Everyone wants to be recognized and appreciated. There's a compelling call to play big out here. It takes sustained efforts. Most burn-out happens because the desire to be "someone special" is greater than the desire to be yourself.
Differentiating is the first step to seeing your value. You have to be honest about the big question.
Why you over one of your competitors? Once you own this answer, you will be able accomplish more than you thought possible. Once you see that your set of experiences is completely unique and shapes your point of view, you will start to stand in your own two shoes and you won't mimic anyone, fight for attention, or feel embarrassed about your marketing.
Define your ideal client
It is a natural tendency to talk about how perfect you are for the work you do and and how all your experiences have brought you here, to this place, of giving your gifts to the world.
At a certain point of business maturity you'll start to move from the ego-centric mode and start looking outward. Successful businesses make a shift from brand-centric to customer-centric.
You are clear about what matters to you - now it is time to get really clear about what matters to your ideal client.
Narrow the audience to widen your circle of influence.
Defining an ideal client isn't easy and most entrepreneurs get it wrong. Don't miss this one.
Learn How to do Keyword Research
Once you've tied your solution to the needs of your ideal client it is time for a reality check. Keyword research is the first feedback mechanism to tell you if you understand your ideal client.
Do you know the questions they are asking, the search queries they are making? What is the need and what does Google say it sounds like? Keyword research shows you how to match your content to the needs of your audience.
Done correctly keyword research will give you insight into needs, questions, pain, paradoxes, confusion, hopes and dreams of your ideal client.
Keyword research can help you better define the language to use when reaching your ideal client. We can use search tools to find the questions they ask, the people they are attracted to and the groups they hang out in.
Optimize Your Most Important Pages
On-page optimization sets the foundation for the traffic you will be attracting.
Once you’ve defined the keywords that will work for you, you will need to know where and how to use them on your website.
First, each page should be able to stand on its own. That means there's an overall theme or topic for each page and it is clear to your reader. Think of it as functionality or purpose and every page has one.
Each page needs to be tagged with a Title tag (that indicates the purpose of the page), meta description (provides the search engine a summary of the page) and heading tags. The words on the page need to match the meta description. This isn't something you haven't heard before but it is worth saying again, write for your audience not for the search engines.
Text on the page should be focused, unique and provide value to the reader. Use your keywords naturally, they are meant to inform you about what to say not sprinkled in for search engine benefit.
Images, social elements, navigation and internal linking all play a role in optimizing your website. For more details about optimizing and structuring content, download your free copy of Scents and Signals ebook.
Build Online Relationships
Which is also known as link building and social media marketing
You have your foundation set. You are differentiated, you've tied your unique qualities and passions to the needs of your ideal client, you know how speak a language that helps you to show up in search, and your website enforces your message.
The next step is creating and sharing content to attract your right people to your website.
This is another time to look at the marketplace through the eyes of your ideal client.
Who shares your niche, how are they positioning themselves and what can you learn from them?
All of the natural ways you connect with people become stronger when you are creating content around topics, themes, and keyword phrases you own. This is where you become a force. Not just a solopreneur, you become the 'go to' person for your topic.
You get asked to write guest blogs, speak at conferences, contribute to tele-seminars. Like-minded people want to link to you and they do it naturally. Your content is helpful, valuable, and shared.
Your ability to connect authentically and powerfully is within reach.
The last point and most important.
Stay true to yourself, connected to your why to develop your presence in search. You matter and your business matters. People will want to hire you when they truly understand how you can help them.