What Problem Do You Solve?

In about two weeks my oldest son Evan will turn 16, a milestone that (not coincidentally) corresponds with my tenure as a parent. And while having children seems perfectly natural today, I didn’t always feel that way. In fact, I remember quite clearly the analysis that went into our decision to start a family.

My wife Linda, ever the practical one, considered many factors before agreeing to go ahead. These included such things as the strength of our relationship, the robustness of our finances and the state of the world in general.

I, on the other hand, employed a simpler, decidedly more right-brained approach: The more kids we have, the better the chances that someone other than me will shovel the driveway.

Luckily, our dissimilar methodologies led to the same conclusion and we agreed to move forward (not literally) and conceive.

As it turns out – and If you’re a seasoned parent yourself, you’ve probably already guessed this – the shoveling help never quite materialized. And so in recent years I’ve pinned my procreative hopes on IT support.

The way I look at it, if my 13-year-old daughter Emily can text-message while snowboarding, surely she can figure out how to troubleshoot a wireless network.

Or not. As Emily explains, “Being a user and a fixer are not the same thing, Daddy.” And so my role as household desktop support guy continues to this day. That’s why when Linda’s computer developed a sudden problem last week (she could send but not receive e-mail), the task of fixing it fell on me.

So I restarted her computer. No change. I deleted and reinstalled her e-mail client, Thunderbird. No change. I walked the dog. No change.

I was running out of ideas. Her e-mail had been working fine that morning and I felt fairly certain that the problem was related to Thunderbird itself. In fact, I distinctly remember thinking, “I would happily pay $100 right now to have a Thunderbird expert appear beside me.”

No such expert appeared, but after a couple of days and several Google searches, I did solve the mystery. As it turned out, the “SSL” box within Thunderbird had somehow been checked, preventing e-mail from coming in. I unchecked it and sure enough, the messages poured forth like year-end bonuses at a failing investment bank.

Here’s the (long awaited) point: When people have problems, they tend to be very specific. I wasn’t thinking about improving the computer system in my house, I was looking for someone who could solve a Thunderbird blockage.

Your prospective clients, assuming they are also people, think the same way:

They don’t need “financial planning” … they need a way to pay for college.
They don’t need “graphic design” … they need a logo for their new business.
They don’t need “architecture” … they need a new kitchen and bath.

As a group, however, we professional service providers tend to describe ourselves in more general terms. We tell people – on our websites, in our marketing materials and in person – what our profession is (e.g., recruiter, coach, attorney) and why we’re qualified (e.g., MBA, good listening skills, 10 years experience).

There’s nothing wrong with offering this information, it’s just that from the perspective of our potential clients, we haven’t closed the loop; we expect them to connect their problem to our body of knowledge… on their own. Unfortunately, they don’t always make the leap.

I think I’ve found a better way.

In my case, as someone who helps companies develop E-Newsletters, I don’t spend much time at all talking about the fact that I’m a marketing consultant, and close to zero time trying to convince others of my qualifications.

Instead, I work on one thing: Making it very clear that I fix a specific problem… “How do we get an E-Newsletter up and running?”

The way I look at it, the marketing and positioning of my business is all about identifying myself with a specific pain point. A pain point that at any given time, some portion of the business population is feeling. When those people start thinking about this problem (or start asking around), some of them get pointed in my direction.

That’s big. There’s time later on for me to prove to you that I’m qualified. Step one (from the client’s perspective) is simply finding a person who specializes in the work itself.

If I tell you I’m a marketing consultant, or a great writer, or a client-focused-results-driven-professional-with-25-years-of-blah-blah-blah, you may make the connection. But if I tell you I fix E-Newsletter problems, I’ve done the work for you.

So here’s my recommendation. Think about common problems that your prospective clients have and align yourself with them:

Don’t be just a real estate broker … be someone who helps middle aged kids sell the homes of their elderly parents.

Don’t be just a life coach … be someone who helps divorced men change careers.

Don’t be just a carpenter … be someone who turns dreary basements into beautiful home offices.

You get the idea. Make it as easy and obvious as possible for people to think about you, remember you and find you in connection with a particular problem that they need solved. Because when the problem first arises, that’s what they’re looking for.

I’ll be shoveling the driveway if you need me.

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