If you need help growing your business, picking a niche or figuring out which marketing tools will work for you, take advantage of my free mentoring session to see what’s possible.
From come-what-may freelancer to get-it-done business owner
Staying afloat, not sure how to grow
For my first 10+ years as a generalist freelance writer, word-of-mouth referrals had been my bread and butter. I felt fortunate to have projects referred to me by former co-workers and others, which created a fairly steady flow of business over the years.
People would reach out and say they needed a writer, one project led to another and I really didn’t have to hunt for business. But, I also knew I could be doing better.
I started listening to (and became obsessed with) podcasts offering advice from people running larger, more established businesses. Consistent themes began to pop up: successful people meditated and journaled, and some focused on a specific niche.
I was intrigued by the idea of “niching down,” but I wasn’t sure it was right for me. In fact, I was very resistant.
The businessperson I am today is not who I was a year ago
All these success secrets were swirling around in my brain, and then I heard Ilise Benun on a podcast and started listening to her Marketing Mentor podcast. I remember being drawn to the things she said about finding bigger clients with better budgets. (Who wouldn’t? But my business had actually slowed down a bit so I was even more intrigued.) So I signed up for her Quick Tips newsletter.
I liked the idea of having a coach, but I didn’t have the extra money for it and also felt really adamant that I didn’t want to niche. I loved having a diverse slate of clients and projects. I felt it kept me fresh.
But I decided it couldn’t hurt to take advantage of the free mentoring session Ilise offers. Her conversation with me got me thinking, but I wasn’t ready to pull the trigger. So, I continued to follow her on YouTube, listen to the podcast and read her blog.
Ilise had a different take on finding your niche that spoke to the generalist in me — that it doesn’t have to mean choosing just one industry to target. My niche could be defined by me and how I present myself. Niching could allow me to call myself (and be) a specialist and still have the variety I craved. Now that I could agree to!
Finding a niche that spoke to the generalist in me
I started benefiting from her free advice, putting it into practice and noticing my clients were bigger — and so were the budgets I commanded. I was ready for the next step and decided it was time to talk with Ilise. Plus I had seen in her newsletter she was starting small group coaching, and I loved the idea of combining the group experience with one-on-one guidance. It didn’t take long before I was ready to sign on!
Before the group started, I worked with Ilise to figure out what kind of niche made sense for me, the type of marketing I could commit to and how much time I should devote to it. But really, she made it clear that I shouldn’t diminish my voice — that who I was was integral to my brand. She gave me permission to go all in on being me. Once I had that, I was ready to write a newsletter and knew I could commit to two per month. I wanted my newsletter to be relatable and fun, because that’s what I set out to do when I write for clients. It was so important to communicate in a way that showed my personality, pushing the envelope when I needed to. And moreover, no jargon or boring marketing speak. Because who wants to read that?!
I’ve been sending out my newsletter for several months now, and it’s been amazing to get such positive feedback. And my open rate is way above the industry average. I’m communicating with a spirit of generosity, helping people understand more about brand voice and brand message and keeping me in front of them on a regular basis. And, almost as a by-product, I’m getting business from this outreach. Some people even tell me they look forward to my emails and save them!
Another marketing tool Ilise made me realize actually was marketing is networking. I knew I needed more contacts and a right-for-me approach to grow my network. I had a certain perception about networking (and not a great one). So I had to re-think it in a way that worked for me — and I have — and to the point where it’s now my best marketing tool. But before Ilise, I never considered networking to be marketing. Not only do I love it and find it effective, I’m getting more referrals than I know what to do with. Oh, and I am the president of my weekly group. So I guess you could say it’s serious.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- Get comfortable with the idea of networking. I don’t like the term networking, so I call it relationship-building. I go to events with the intention of helping people today and trust that, someday, they may return the favor.
- Finding your people takes time. If you have one bad experience, don’t write off every networking group. Try out several events and meet-ups to see which is the right fit for you. While it could be tempting to join the largest, most-established group you find, be open to smaller, more focused ones and even those that aren’t in your industry.
- Networking is a long game. It can take a while to get to know people in these groups — and they, you. Don’t expect to meet someone and immediately get a referral or new business. Relationship-building takes time and effort. Be patient and generous, and people will come to know and respect you — and that’s when you’ll begin reaping the benefits of your network.
- One-on-ones count as networking, too. Don’t totally rely on the group meetings to really get to know people. Make time for individual talks over coffee, lunch or on Zoom (video). This is where you’ll learn more about your connections, including their life outside work. This is where the real bonding happens.
- When you’re ready, consider a leadership role. The group I’m in today began as a start-up. By being involved from day one, I’m helping create the group I want to be in. Today as the president, I’m the face of the group and I love it. You may want to do the same, or you could volunteer for a committee role. I’ve found that the more I give to my group, the more good things come back to me.
Since I began working with Ilise and meeting twice monthly with my small group, I’ve done a complete 180. The businessperson I am today is not who I was a year ago.
Back then, I was a freelancer who took most of what came my way, with no real say in the direction of my career and no defined voice about what makes me who I am. Today, I’m a business owner who approaches clients in a strategic way that helps grow my business.
There’s been a big change in how I talk about what I do and in my job satisfaction. People who haven’t seen me for a while tell me I seem so passionate. What they’re seeing is me taking responsibility for my life — doing the sometimes difficult but necessary things to grow my business. Now, I do the work I really want to do, which puts me in a place to say yes to certain types of work and no to others.
From freelancer who took whatever came along to business owner who does what it takes
Email marketing and networking are what I do to regularly market my business — and they’ve changed the game for me. I can more easily and consistently communicate what I do, make new connections (and new friends!) and grow my support system.
I defined my niche as the “go-to brand personality copywriter.” I have a renewed confidence in what I do and love getting to know the companies I work with, figuring out why they do what they do and recommending how they can best communicate with, engage and reach their audiences.
I still appreciate word-of-mouth referrals, but I don’t rely on them. I see my new efforts paying off and can absolutely connect the new client work to my consistent marketing efforts. I’ve even shared my expertise on the Marketing Mentor podcast! (Listen to this episode on how I learned to ask for help.)
Danielle Hughes runs More Than Words Marketing and is a B2B and B2C branding specialist, marketer and copywriter based in Forest Hills, New York. She works with individuals, institutions and agencies, helping them define their brand voice and consistently deliver content to their audience in a friendly and digestible way.