If you are considering self-employment, then there is a fundamental decision that you will need to make about your whole approach to business.
You need to decide whether you are going to sell your skills to clients who want them; or whether you want to help a particular set of people to overcome their problems.
On the face of it, there isn’t much difference between the two. But bear with me here, because once you start to dig a little deeper, you will see that the difference is truly huge.
Many people, who are leaving employment and moving to self-employment fall into the trap of thinking like an employee: The client has a job that needs doing but doesn’t want to pay a permanent or full-time salary; you have skills and experience but don’t want to be tied down to a single employer.
This has the advantage of being easy and familiar, but it is far from ideal. It sets you up for an unequal relationship with your client and can lead to confusion about who is setting the agenda and taking responsibility for the results. Are you a consultant who is making recommendations or are you an employee who follows directions?
“I have great skills and experience. Please hire me.”
The alternative is for you to be the expert.
For a moment, let’s move away from your trade or profession and think about an expert who we all recognise: your doctor. When you go to the doctor you trust her to listen to your symptoms, to diagnose your problem and to set you on a specific course of action. She may discuss the options with you and set out alternatives, but there is no mistaking who is in charge here. She is giving her advice; you can take it or leave it.
Now, it’s unlikely that you have the years of medical training and framed certificates of a doctor. But whether your expertise is in software, customer service, timetabling or heating and ventilation, you can still choose whether you want to be the one who is called in to fix difficult problems, who is in charge of the situation, who is seen as an equal:
“I can see how that’s causing you problems. I have a proven solution. Are you interested?”
When you set out your stall (so to speak), you have the choice of telling the world all about yourself or all about the people and problems that you help with:
It’s certainly a lot easier to talk about yourself and what you can do. You don’t need to do market research or think about things from your customer’s perspective. And it’s true that there are customers out there, who know what needs to be done and what kind of person they need to do it. When someone like that comes looking, you don’t need particularly sophisticated marketing, you just need to set out your skills and experience. Chances are they will shortlist a few similar people and start negotiating on price.
But there are many, many more potential customers, who recognise that they have a problem and want to fix it, but don’t know where to start. They feel the pain and may well understand how much it is costing them, but they are very unlikely to know enough about the solution to line up a lot of different suppliers and start beating them down on price.
Marketing theory teaches us that these people don’t want to understand how the solution works, they just need to be convinced that they can trust you and that you have a track record, helping people like them. We’ll look more at that last point next…
When marketing guru, Seth Godin, talks about expertise he uses the phrase
“famous in the family”
What does this mean? Well, within our family, I am known for making a great spaghetti bolognaise. You almost certainly didn’t know that, and it doesn’t matter that you didn’t know. The only people who need to know about this very specific culinary expertise are my immediate family. And they do know. So, whenever there is spaghetti bolognaise on the menu, I’m the one who is asked to make it.
Similarly, you probably don’t need to achieve global recognition for your particular expertise. In order to achieve business success, you almost certainly don’t need to be known by thousands of people. However, what you do need is to be respected by the right people.
That’s why the cornerstone of successful marketing is a well-defined, tightly focused target market. A market segment should comprise people who will recognise the similarities between each other and understand that they share similar challenges. So, when they hear who else you have helped, they will accept that you are very likely to be a good fit for them, too.
Most importantly, your target markets should include people who you really care about and who you want to succeed (the word ‘passionate’ is often overused but is correct here). At networking events, presentations and customer meetings, people will see right through you if all you do is target the most profitable customers.
Self-employment gives you the opportunity to do work that matters and that makes a difference. It’s up to you whether you are ready to step up the challenge.