You know what I haven’t done in 25 years?
If you said, “Ask a stranger to dance,” you’re close.
But, if you said, “Set foot in Seattle,” you’re exactly right.
And yet there I was, not two short weeks ago, stepping off the plane at Sea-Tac Airport with my wife Linda and my very excited daughter Emily.
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Emily, you see, is attending the University of Puget Sound this year; we arrived a couple of days early to have a look around.
Ask any Seattleite (or whatever these friendly people are called) what to do in their fair city and they will, to a person, recommend a visit to Pike Place Market, a frothing, multi-level jumble of food, flowers, crafts and humanity.
And so we did. We wandered around for a couple of hours, trying out the jam and cheese samples on the top level and perusing the vintage stores in the shops down below.
And then something really interesting happened.
As we were walking back to our car along the sidewalk, a smiling man stepped in front of my wife, put out his hand to give her something and said, “Here, it’s just about ready.”
The “it” in question, was a fist-sized, oddly-shaped, ceramic blue thing which the smiling man had apparently just finished warming in a microwave. Linda took it and he immediately began explaining the benefits of massaging oneself with said thing.
I have to tell you, he was good: informative and friendly, but not the least bit pushy.
But there was more. Because over the next couple of minutes, he managed to massage each of our backs and necks, never once pausing to stop the conversation.
Like I said, he was good. And so I’m sure it comes as no surprise to learn that 15 minutes later, he was $45 richer and I was carrying a warm blue thing in my pocket (insert your own inappropriate joke here).
I share this with you today because the smiling man demonstrated two very important marketing techniques:
- You need a good opening line.
He didn’t say “Excuse me,” or “Do you want to buy one of these?,” or any one of a thousand other worn out phrases which would have resulted in our walking right on by. Instead, he said something intriguing (“Here, it’s just about ready”) while deliberately handing the thing to Linda.
Try to do the same in your own communication.
What’s the first line of your newsletter or blog post? What’s the first thing out of your mouth when you start speaking to an audience? What’s on the home page of your web site?
How you begin has a lot to do with how willing people are to let you continue.
- You need to offer a free sample.
A sample is valuable because it lets you try out whatever it is you’re thinking of buying. Obvious.
What’s not so obvious, however, is that a free sample also creates a subtle (but compelling) sense of obligation.
As Robert Cialdini describes in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, when somebody gives you something – whether you asked for it or not – you feel a need to give something in return. (His description of the Hare Krishnas’ use of this principle in their airport fund-raising successes is fascinating.)
When smiling man massaged my family for 15 minutes, he was applying this same notion.
When it comes to marketing yourself and your business, you too will benefit by being generous with your time and knowledge. That means doing things like publishing free content, answering unsolicited questions over the phone, or letting an information-seeking stranger buy you a cup of coffee.
Will some people take advantage of your generosity? I guarantee it.
But others, and in addition to getting a better sense of who you are and how you think, will give more consideration to working with you than they would if they were just objectively evaluating what you offer and what it costs.
Here’s the bottom line. As a solo professional, you need to be good at what you do in order to get and keep wonderful, happy clients. But “good at what you do” is really just the price of admission.
If you can find ways to gain attention and create a connection, you’ll find it easier to get the clients you want.
Discussion questions (post your answers below):
- Where do you plug in a microwave on the sidewalk, anyway?
- The University of Puget Sound’s school motto is, “Once a Logger, Always a Logger!” Are you a Logger? Give examples.
- What do you do in your business to gain attention and create a connection?
Great post as always. I suppose it´s bad manners not answering your three questions, but I would rather just say thanks. This will now rotate in my mind through the weekend and until I meet my colleagues on Monday morning to discuss with them.
Best wishes for a great weekend from Norway (am I the reader furthest away?)
Great to hear from you as always, Edgar! And I’m sorry to say, but I think the Australians have you beat on furthest distance.
Good article Mike!
Was just in Seattle at Pikes Place for the first time ever on Saturday over Labor Day weekend.
I hope that wasn’t you I saw double-dipping at the salsa counter, Ray. Would have been funny if we had met there in any case!
I think we deserve to see a picture of this “warm blue thing” of which you speak. Seriously, does it have a real name?
Love your stuff etc.
You are right, Robyn!
It’s called the Synergy Stone. Here’s the link:
I have to confess that we don’t seem as skilled in using it as the guy who sold it to us was, but it’s a fun thing to keep on the kitchen table in any case.
Coolio! Thanks for sharing.
Michael – I will only take a run at Question #1 because chainsaws frighten me and I am sure they are a requirement to be a “logger”. There is a company I know of (and there may be more) that provides grid-based electricity to food trucks and other mobile businesses like the ceramic blue thing selling guy. Pretty amazing concept but you can pay for the electricity from a smart phone and it automatically bills you for the power you use from when you plug in to when you disconnect.
Wow, that is amazing. But I don’t quite get it – where does he physically plug in?
On a similar note, I was impressed with how the guy swiped my credit card, had me sign on the screen (with my finger) and emailed me a receipt, all off of his smart phone.
Another reminder of why I’m glad to be alive in the 21st century (although 22nd will be even cooler, I suspect0.
1. There is no plug. This is obviously wizardry.
2. Am I a Logger? No. No, I am not. But I do chop away at my business ever day……oh, wait…..I see what you did there. Clever.
3. I send out my own monthly newsletter, that always starts with a personal story, with a little self deprication (accompanied by either a photo or video) and then relate it to a business lesson.
Love your answers, Charles!
And I checked out your web site – love the penguins too, obviously, but what’s with the purple? Cool penguins are blue, no?
Unless they are purple. Then they are super cool!
Ooo.. well played, my friend.
The company I am familiar with (www.simplygrid.com) actually installs charging stations in places where there is a consistent need – like every street corner in Manhattan – and taps into the standard power grid infrastructure.
Always enjoy your insight, sense of humor and words of wisdom, Michael. Thank you! Now I’ll take a stab at the questions.
1. Run an extension cord from one of the central outlets in the market… not very 21st century 🙁
2. Nope – not a logger. Never been to Seattle or attended the university there and probably never will so no team loyalty factor there. On the flipside – I’m very clumsy with saws – manual or power – and I’m a tree-hugger.
3. Tales with travel tips from the Third Culture Kid on a Camel. (That’s me.) My niche is international travel and I wish I could show you my website but it’s a work in progress right now.
Hello JudyB! I like your answers (what is this extension cord thing you speak of, a new invention?!).
And your niche sounds cool. Any particular type of international travel, or anywhere for anyone?
You’re a great storyteller with a message that always resonates with me.
I would like to know what was that blue self massage tool that you bought 🙂
Thanks for reading and commenting.
It’s called the Synergy Stone. Here’s the link:
Talking about your openning line…. Here’s an email in this morning
“Can you believe it’s September already mark?
Was it just me or did summer completely fly by?
(Well at least there’s good news — football is back!)
Anyway, back to business. Now that fall is officially here and we’re all back to focusing fully on our businesses for a few months, I wanted to talk about your website.”
I think that “mark” at the end of the first line is an attempt to make this personal. It fails.
The second line reference to summer …. Here in Sydney, Australia, it’s winter. Strike 2.
“football is back” on the third line ….. our football season is coming to an end. Strike 3.
“Now that fall is officially over” on the fourth line …. we’re coming into spring… oh, and we call it Autumn. Strike 4 and 5.
She then goes onto praise her copywriting skills …. I guess they are OK as long as your market is only in the northern part of the continental US.
Thanks as always for sparking the conversation. And I can understand how it must be frustrating to hear this kind of thing all the time, given how much stuff must come your way from us Northern Hemisphere-dwelling Americans.
Although from a marketing perspective, and assuming your email sender’s market is mostly Americans (I don’t know), I think she’s doing exactly the right thing. The more you can connect with people on a human level – summer, football, etc. – the more effective your marketing is going to be.
Yes, we will push away people who don’t fit the demographic or who just don’t like our way of thinking/communicating. But if we do the opposite – write in a way that is bland, one size fits all, no point of view, geographically neutral, etc. – we end up with the corporate sounding blah blah that we all ignore.
I say pick your market and focus on talking to it, as directly and consistently as possible. We solos, in particular, don’t need thousands (or even hundreds of clients). Just a few people with whom we resonate.
What do you think?
when it comes to consulting – Do you give a free session to get all the facts and set the goals?
or is that in the first paid session and the first free is making sure( somehow) that I have what they want and can give it to them. hmm not sure
I don’t give away a free working session. But I do talk to people before they hire me about who they are and what they’re trying to accomplish – and why they think they may need help from me. I guess you’d call that a sales call, but the goal is less about closing them than it is figuring out if we’re a good match.
So it may lead to the same place as what you’re describing, but these calls are prior to either one of us committing to anything.
How about you, how do you approach it?
Hi, Michael – and thanks for the feedback on my niche. I’m actually approaching it (international travel) as B2B but the tips could apply to anyone. After struggling with trying to find my niche it was a “duh, Judy” moment. I was a UN/WHO brat and one thing I knew was travel. I was at it for 40 years so logged in some miles and experiences around the world. Third Culture Kids is a book written about people like me (except I didn’t go home for college at 18 but kept right on travelling). The camel part is based on an essay I wrote about my experience getting stuck on a camel in a rain squall in Tunisia and getting dried off in a Berber camp. 🙂
Very cool. I find it’s very common for the niche light bulb to switch on for people and the answer is something incredibly obvious (it’s just hard to see until you see it!).
And I know exactly where you’re coming from on the camel thing. I mean, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve been stuck on a camel in a rain squall in Tunisia, I’d be a rich man.
😉 knew you were a kindred soul!
Hi Michael – I hope you enjoyed your visit to Seattle even though your daughter is going to school in Tacoma. There are some pretty cool things in Tacoma too, especially if you like museums.
I have no idea where your guy plugged in his microwave, but there are amazing things happening at the Market all the time, so I’m not surprised by your story. I got married in a room upstairs from Rachel the pig many years ago.
I am not and never will be a Logger. I am, however, a Clogger. Think Southern Appalachian Riverdance. 8 people dancing to fast music and making the same rhythms with their feet amplified by taps can be exciting.
I am growing my new equine bodywork practice by offering free sessions. I like the idea that it creates a subtle sense of obligation. I’m happy to do it because it gets me out to where the horses are. Can’t meet horses on the internet . . . Will give more thought to my opening line. Mostly my approach has been to listen well and engage people in conversation by asking questions: Has she ever had bodywork? How have you cared for him since X happened? etc.
My other business is Blue Horse Marketing http://www.bluehorse.biz. I send occasional email newsletters with excerpts with links to some of my blog posts. I’ve had fun illustrating my blog posts with photos of horses. I can always find one that somehow has the right feel to match the post.
Thanks for your newsletter. I always enjoy it when I take a read.
From the Emerald City of Seattle
Great to hear from you, Barbara! And yes, we really enjoyed your city – so much to see and do.
(And there’s definitely a joke in here somewhere: “I got married in a room upstairs from Rachel the pig many years ago.”)
There’s also got to be a joke about what did the blue horse say to the blue penguin?