Simple Simon Says, Do This

I got a call on Monday from Laurie at Midsize Consulting Firm (not their real name).

She said, “I know you only do email newsletters, but we like your writing. Can you recommend somebody like you who could help us develop other types of content?”

I said, “Absolutely. I know someone very much like me who could help you. In fact, the similarities are striking. Me.”

And then I went on to explain that although I specialize in email newsletters, and even though my web site header, email signature, LinkedIn profile, bio, business cards and pajamas say “email newsletters for professional service firms” – and little else – it’s not actually true.

It’s a deliberate oversimplification.

What I actually do is coach solo professionals; conduct short and long format workshops and classes; speak at conferences; sell products and programs; and develop all kinds of custom content for all kinds of individuals and companies … some of which involves email newsletters for professional service firms.

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She said, “great,” and off we went on a discussion of how I might be able to help her.

Marketing is not reality

“But hold on there just a minute,” you’re probably thinking.

“You’ve got custom pajamas? And not only that, aren’t you limiting your chances of being hired for more work by more clients by only talking about one thing?”

I don’t think so; three reasons why not:

  1. It’s not a lottery.

    Claiming proficiency in more things doesn’t get you more clients. It’s not like they drop names into a hat and whomever is holding the most tickets has the best chance of getting hired.Instead, it’s about standing out from the crowd and making it onto the short list for a particular prospect in a particular situation. You’re not looking for “chances,” you’re looking for clients; getting hired is about standing out as the best.

    When you emphasize one, narrow thing, others assume that you must be pretty good at it. Yes, it reduces the number of chances, but among those, you’re way (way) more likely to get hired.

  1. Nobody but you is going to remember or take note of all the things that you can do.

    If you insist on broadcasting a laundry list of capabilities, you’ll blend into the crowd like a middle aged bald man at a high school parents night.Focus on one, simple thing in all your marketing activities, on the other hand, and now you’ve got a chance that I’ll come to associate you with that particular thing.

    From a word of mouth perspective, that’s exactly what you want.

  1. Your clients don’t care about your marketing.

    “But what about my existing clients, many of whom have hired me to do work other than a single area of focus? What do I tell them?”Let me begin by saying that you’re asking some pretty good questions today. But the short answer is, you tell them nothing.

    Marketing is for the people who have yet to hire you, not those who already know, like, trust and have benefited from your services.

    Your happy clients have firsthand data regarding your work; they care little about how you sum it all up for the rest of the world.

    If they like you, they’ll bring more work to you, no matter what your marketing says.

Here’s the bottom line. As a small business owner or solo professional with limited time, energy and money to spend on marketing, you’ve got just two options: Either I remember one thing about you, or I remember nothing.

And while I know you’re capable of much more, if your own description of the work you do doesn’t feel like a blatant oversimplification, you’re not doing it right.

Discussion questions:

  1. What’s the one thing you’d like to be known for?
  1. Are you?
  1. Do you wear pajamas? Give examples.

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19 thoughts on “Simple Simon Says, Do This

  1. Joyce Hollman

    Thanks, Michael! You have cleared up a question that has nagged me for quite awhile. Now I understand that being an expert is the important thing; it makes you credible, and if you’re credible, it doesn’t matter a bit how you advertise yourself and your expertise. You’re already credible.
    Question, though: if I am targeting the training industry as my niche, will I sound too “jack of all trades” if I say that I write white papers, case studies and e-newsletters for this industry?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Joyce!
      It’s all a matter of degree and there’s no clear line you have to get over, but in general, the narrower the better. My friend Gordon Graham, for example, does nothing but white papers.

      Generally, the niches fall into either what you do (newsletters, whitepapers, sales training, etc.) or who you do it for (divorced men, law firms, holistic medicine providers, etc.) or where you do it (only in Wisconsin), or some combination.

      So while “training” feels pretty broad to me (although I don’t know enough about it to really say), you’re definitely close, if not there, to say that you “develop content for the training industry.” It’s way better than just saying you’re a “freelance writer,” for example.


  2. Dana Leigh Lyons

    Love your posts…and the smiles and sage guidance they bring.

    Over the past year, I finally gathered the courage to claim a niche for my business…and wow, what a difference it’s made in my sense of direction, depth of practice and peace of mind.

    “Officially,” I’m a Doctor of Oriental Medicine. But what I DO is help people who experience food and eating as a place of struggle or pain…and who want a holistic approach to looking and feeling better.

    Oh, and I adore pajama pants. Mine, like most of my clothes, are soft, cozy and grey.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      So glad to hear that, Dana. I love what you said here: “Sense of direction, depth of practice and peace of mind.” An added benefit, along with better clients more easily.

      Good to know on the pajamas, I might have totally blown your holiday gift otherwise!

    2. Suzanne Ghais

      Thanks for this–but I’m just curious for a little clarification: which is the one that you market yourself with? Is it the Dr. of Oriental Medicine, or do you put yourself out there as the helper of those with the eating struggles? (Very cool line of work by the way.)

      1. Dana Leigh Lyons

        Hi Suzanne,

        I market myself as someone who helps people who struggle with eating…and who want a holistic approach to changing their relationship with food. My website of course lists my credentials in the About section…but I find saying I’m a DOM talks more about me…rather than calling someone’s name. (Is an amazing line of work, I find!)

  3. Gordon Graham

    Awesome post, Michael!! I will share this link with anyone who tells me, “But I don’t want to be pinned down to one thing?! I also do this, and that, and the other…”

    Here’s immediate, ironic proof that a single-minded positioning works: In a comment above, Michael says I only write white papers. Ah grasshopper! I also do many other things: write case studies, develop courses, do coaching, do content marketing consulting, match up writers with projects when I’ve overbooked, even write fiction.

    But I go to market as ThatWhitePaperGuy because that’s my main specialty where I earn most of my money. All the other stuff is a hodge-podge that’s too hard to sum up.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I heard you are quite adept at kale farming as well. Might I suggest you add that to the list: That Whitepaper and Kale-Farming Guy. I’m confident the URL will be available!

  4. Samantha White

    Hmm, I’ll tell you a secret . . . in trying to identify what I am “selling” when I put myself out there, I’ve decided it’s Wisdom. Yes, I have the temerity, the arrogance, to think that almost 80 years of living hard, learning from my vast array of life experiences, (and earning a few college degrees along the way) has made me wise. So I present myself as a source of Wisdom. What I DO, actually, is therapy, counseling, and coaching of people who seek more satisfaction with life. I want to be thought of as a Wise Woman. How would that translate to marketing?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Samantha,
      It makes sense, but it’s really hard to prove since everyone claims to offer wisdom, quality, custom solutions, experience, etc., as part of whatever it is they do.

      If I tell you that I specialize in repairing VW buses (there is such a guy, actually), I win that niche since nobody else does that. It’s really not about how good I am. You own a VW bus and you want it repaired, I’m your guy.

      So I’d try to sharpen the wisdom thing to something much more specific.


  5. Charles

    1. “Creating video newsletters for community banks” That has just been for “busy professionals”, however, I am gaining steam with community banks.

    2. Working on it.

    3. Pajama bottoms and tee shirts that are from a different century.

  6. Laura Foley

    I keep telling my fellow freelancers that “the riches are in the niches” but they’re afraid of making their focus too narrow. But I, like you, know that it’s exactly this focus that helps people to remember who you are and what you do. Me, I specialize in helping engineers, scientists and high-tech nerds to create better PowerPoint presentations. Will I help people in other industries with their presentations? You betcha! But this extremely narrow niche helps me rise to the top of the list of other presentation designers who specialize in helping this audience (at last count it was 1).

    As an aside, my favorite PJs are the flannel ones printed all over with bingo motifs. Thanks for asking!

  7. Stephanie

    Stress Therapy….takes into account everything I do….should I be more specific and target a specific markey ie: Stress Therapy for small business owners or stress therapy for targeted parents or parents dealing with probate court?

    pajamas–I love pajamas….leave it to me to find a profession where it is perfectly acceptable for me to show up barefoot and in pajamas and no one bats an eye….although…I am working towards a more professional look and have upgraded to the ever comfy yoga pants 🙂

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Stephanie!
      Yes, I think that specifying a target market would help. It helps people pay more attention and perk up too. Stress therapy is something I understand; stress therapy for small business owners gets me thinking about specific people (maybe even myself) who could benefit.

      And good for you on the pjs. Nice to have a job where dressing in comfy yoga pants is considered a “more professional upgrade!” (me too)

  8. Rachel Cunliffe

    Great post/email, Michael. I find it hard to narrow it down to one thing but it is a fantastic question to keep asking myself because things do change over time.

    For a long time I said “I design blogs”, then it was “I design WordPress-driven websites” but lately the more I think about it, my specialty is that I use my training as a statistician to inform my design and want to help people grow their business rather than simply design them a website. How do I put that into a pithy one-liner?


    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Rachel!
      Yes, it’s definitely a moving target. Not an easy answer in your case, but something to think about:

      Describing what you do and/or for whom you do it tends to be more memorable and easier to explain than *how* you do it. So, for example, I tell people it’s email newsletters (a “what”) even though my approach could be described as “helping professionals position themselves as likeable experts.” I tried that for awhile, but found it too squishy and not clearly aligned enough with what people thought they needed.

      Word press driven web sites, for example, is not as good as “web sites that people can edit by themselves.”



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