Communities, selling, and service offerings

The infamous content calendar says that today is proposal day, but I’m going to ignore the infamous content calendar and talk about a bunch of things other than proposals. (Well, I’ll mention proposals once, I guess.)

First, I’ll talk about the new glasses that I received yesterday.

In addition to a new frame style, this new set has the transition sunglass tint but WITHOUT the computer tint. (The Costco optical person said that I didn’t need a separate computer tint these days. I don’t know if he was right, but I trusted him.) My last set of glasses had both the transition sunglass tint AND the computer tint, which meant that they had a purple color at times. Now my tint in the sun will be brown rather than purple.

But enough about that.

Let’s get to the meat of this post, in which I’ll talk about the communities that I’ve joined since starting Bredemarket, what led me to purchase something from one of those communities, and one of two actionable items (and an action) that I took from that purchase.

Communities

Before I became a free agent, I was an employee of a multinational firm with thousands of employees throughout North America and thousands of additional employees throughout the rest of the world. One of the company’s VPs established an online community to support her nationwide organization of people, including myself in California, my direct supervisor in Massachusetts, and a bunch of people in those states, Minnesota, Tennessee, and everywhere else under the sun. I was able to participate in that online community even after I moved out of that VP’s group due to a corporate reorganization. (Thanks Teresa.)

With free agency and sole proprietorship came the loss of that community. (No, the VP obviously wouldn’t let me engage with that community when I was no longer an employee.) But over the next several months I joined three other communities. As it turns out, I interacted with all three of these communities over the course of the last two days.

  • On Thursday at 10:00 am, I joined the weekly “town hall” for the employees and associates of SMA, Inc. I am officially an associate of SMA, albeit with a very specialized skill set (more on that later). To support its people, SMA convenes a weekly “town hall” that addresses company issues and also addresses the interests of SMA’s leadership. Every week, for example, there is an “art talk” that delves into a particular artist or artistic topic.
  • On Thursday at 6:00 pm, I joined the monthly meeting of the Orange County, California chapter (“SPARK OC”: Facebook, Instagram) of the Freelancers Union. This monthly gathering happened to be a “happy hour,” although I disregarded the injunction to bring my favorite cocktail.

  • Finally, today at 8:00 am, I joined a paid workshop hosted by Jay Clouse of the Jay Clouse empire of entities. The topic? “Invisible Selling.” Due to early hour, I didn’t have a beer, but had a Nespresso instead. The rest of this post deals with that workshop and the results from that workshop.

The invisible selling of “Invisible Selling”

I’m not going to recount that Clouse covered in his one-hour workshop. After all, I paid for the course, and (most of) you didn’t. But perhaps it would be helpful if I described how I was invisibly sold on “Invisible Selling.”

I first encountered Jay Clouse via LinkedIn Learning. (Another thing that I lost when I was no longer an employee was access to my employer’s online courses from Udemy and others, but LinkedIn Learning has filled the gap.) I had long since forgotten which Clouse course I took and when I took it, but I checked my LinkedIn profile and found that I had taken his “Freelancing Foundations” course back in September 2020.

After taking the course, I ended up joining his “Freelancing School” community, participating in various online meetups, and engaging with Clouse’s offerings in other ways.

All for free.

Then I received a couple of emails from him about his (then) upcoming “Invisible Selling” course.

I deduced from the description that it would meet my needs, and figured that $40 was a reasonable price. Plus, I trusted Clouse based upon my interactions with him and his community over the last several months.

So I signed up.

The results of my attending “Invisible Selling”

As I said before, I’m not going to recount Clouse’s presentation. But in my particular instance, I derived two actionable tasks within the first 30 minutes of the workshop.

  1. The first task, which could potentially be worth between five dollars and tens of thousands of dollars to me, was to make sure that I am anticipating potential client objections up front, and addressing them. I’m going to devote some time to that in the future. And as you can see below, I started to address one objection even before I heard of Clouse’s workshop.
  2. The second task is one that I cannot discuss publicly at this time. However, it could potentially be worth more than tens of thousands of dollars to me. Maybe I’ll talk about it someday.

Service Offerings

One potential client objection that I’m already addressing is that my offerings do not fit my potential clients’ needs. I’m addressing this by broadening my offerings.

Many of you will recall that when I started, I came up with a bunch of packaged “services” that I could sell to potential clients as is, or with some adaptation to meet the clients’ needs. Over the first few months of Bredemarket’s existence, I sold various clients my Bredemarket 400 Short Writing Service, my Bredemarket 2800 Medium Writing Service, and my Bredemarket 404 Web/Social Media Checkup. I still sell these services today.

But much of my business today doesn’t derive from these prepackaged services. Well, technically it does, if you read the description of my Bredemarket 4000 Long Writing Service:

The long writing service does not have a “standard” offering per se, because of the variability of what may be needed. Work is billed at an hourly rate.

Some of Bredemarket’s more lucrative work comes from ongoing hourly relationships that I have established with several clients. They use me as needed, sometimes more frequently, sometimes less so, but I’ve kept them happy.

“I just wanted to truly say thank you for putting these templates together. I worked on this…last week and it was extremely simple to use and I thought really provided a professional advantage and tool to give the customer….TRULY THANK YOU!”

Why do these customers work with me? Well, while I have a number of customers employing various technologies, the vast majority of my customers are focused on biometrics. And I am the biometric content marketing expert and the biometric proposal writing expert, because I said I am. (The other John Bredehoft, the one who owns Total Plumbing Services, taught me the importance of self-promotion.)

But what if a client wants to pick my biometric brain and not pay hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to do so?

Well, for the past month I’ve been addressing that price point also via Bredemarket Premium. Certain posts on this Bredemarket blog delve deeply into my quarter century-plus of biometrics knowledge. These posts are only available to subscribers, at the cost of $5 per month. Here’s an excerpt from the public view of one of these posts:

So to my mind I’ve covered the “Bredemarket doesn’t address my price point” objection. (Prove me wrong. Please.)

As I said before, I need to do a better job of anticipating and addressing other potential objections to using Bredemarket to help you communicate your firm’s benefits. And I’ll work on that.

But if your objection is that you don’t like my glasses, I can’t help you. You can’t please everyone.

And a reminder that if I’ve brilliantly addressed all of your potential objections, or even if I haven’t, and if you’re ready to talk about how I can help you:

What is the difference between the showroom and the workroom?

When Arizonan Carl Hayden first joined the U.S. House of Representatives, a fellow Congressperson advised Hayden, “If you want to get ahead here, you have to be a work horse and not a show horse.” When Hayden became a U.S. Senator, he dispensed the same advice to incoming colleagues.

But it doesn’t just apply to U.S. Senators.

I thought of this “workhorse/showhorse” distinction last night. It was Valentine’s Day, and I was driving in the dark to pick up some pizza that we had ordered to mark the day. No, that wasn’t’ my Valentine’s Day present; my wife had already received chocolate-covered strawberries.

No, not THOSE chocolate covered strawberries. She got some REAL ones earlier in the day.

So anyway, I was driving back home in the dark after picking up the pizza and noticed something odd. Somewhere out there in the darkness, there were all these glittering tiny lights. I thought to myself, I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the tiny lights glitter.

It turns out that there was a guy, standing next to his van, holding glow-in-the-dark hearts that he was selling.

I didn’t stop, and I didn’t buy. (And I didn’t take a picture, because I knew it wouldn’t turn out well.) But as I was driving home I thought about the guy. And two things came to mind.

First, I doubt that the guy was out selling his products by his van earlier in the day. Why not? Because they wouldn’t look that good early in the day. They would look much better in the dark, in a parking space away from any store or street light. Buyers would then be attracted to his product, like moths to a flame. (Actually, moths probably aren’t attracted to flame. But I digress.)

Second, I realized what would have happened if I had succumbed to the urge to buy one of these glow-in-the-dark hearts from the guy, and if I had taken it home and brought it in the house.

  • Where it wouldn’t look so good, because we have lights all over the house that would diminish the effect of the present.
  • And if I tried to get my wife to go outside to see how the lights looked in the darkness, she would have refused to go out and would have returned to eating pizza.

The challenge that faces any provider is to provide a service that not only looks good when you buy it in the showroom, but also looks good when you put it to work in the workroom. Now there are certainly some providers who are more than happy to take the money and run, but most providers seek to provide long-term customer satisfaction, which is key to getting repeat business and references.

After all, if you go to a car showroom in California and buy a used car, you have the option to buy a contract that allows you to return the car within two days. So if that used car looks great in the showroom but is unsatisfactory when you drive it off the lot, the used car dealer loses that sale, and perhaps loses any future business from you and your friends. Many businesses, such as Amazon, offer similar policies that allow returns under certain circumstances.

Perhaps I’m making assumptions, but I’m guessing that the guy in the van in the dark didn’t have a return policy. It’s not economically feasible in his business.

And now I’m hungry for chocolate covered strawberries. But I’ll probably just get M&Ms and Welch’s fruit snacks.

On managing customer relationships as a sole proprietor

The intriguing part about running your own business is that you have to perform ALL of the business functions, including sales. Bredemarket does not have access to an expert commissioned sales staff; it just has access to me. (There is a separate third party service that looks up work for me, but even there I have to perform the sales function.)

When I developed my checklist of all of the things that I needed to do to start Bredemarket (latest checkoff – my City of Ontario business license has formally been approved), one of the items on the list was to obtain access to a customer relationship management (CRM) system. This would provide me with two benefits:

  • First, I could obviously track sales and marketing activities in the CRM.
  • Second, I could tell potential clients that I had SEVERAL HOURS of CRM administration experience. (Impressive, huh?)

Seriously, I I did have limited access to Salesforce and another CRM in one of my previous jobs, but never to the level of configuring the thing to meet my needs. Now I would have my chance, and learn a little bit in the process.

Actually, I had already been performing CRM in a not-so-elegant way. I’m using a Microsoft Excel workbook to track my contacts for my effort to gain full-time employment, and I was also listing contracting conversations in that same workbook. But when I decided to separate my efforts to obtain full-time employment from my contracting efforts, it also made sense to separate the contracting CRM data and move the Bredemarket tracking to a REAL CRM.

I ended up selecting the free version of HubSpot to use as Bredemarket’s CRM. (For those of you who have seen references to Mailchimp on my home page, that is for a separate mailing list not associated with the CRM.) I configured some essential items, linked to other services, entered a list of contacts with whom I had spoken over the last couple of months, and then prepared my “Announcing Bredemarket” email and the list of contacts who would receive it.

By the time I had prepared my list, and edited my email, it was already early afternoon Pacific Daylight Time. Now I had to start thinking about WHEN I would send the email. I seemed to recall that mornings were the recommended time to send emails, and I confirmed my understanding by reading this CoSchedule blog post. (10am appears to be the sweet spot.) But CoSchedule also linked to a WordStream post that included some of the same advice, but then said:

That’s the Advice. Now Ignore It.

-Megan Marrs

Two facts about the list for this mailing are relevant.

  • This was not an email list that I had purchased. This was a list of people whom I had interacted with personally over the last few months, often after they were finished with their work for the day. If they received the email at 10am, they might wait to read it until the evening anyway.
  • Many of these “recommended email times” studies do not account for the fact that emails are sent to multiple time zones. While I was sending my email from the Pacific Daylight Time zone, some recipients were in the Central Daylight Time and Eastern Daylight Time zones, and one recipient was in the Central European Summer Time zone.

So after some more re-edits of the email, I decided that there was no need to wait until tomorrow morning to send it. So I sent it at 4:45 pm Pacific Daylight Time. (For those keeping score, that’s 01h45 in Central Europe.) I figured that a few people might read the email that evening, and that the rest would see it when they opened their inbox the next morning.

As HubSpot send the email to the recipients, HubSpot started churning its data.

  • Most of the emails were delivered immediately (one remained in a “Sent” status for a while and wasn’t delivered for a few hours).
  • People started opening the emails.
  • People started clicking on the links to the emails.
  • People started sending email responses.

This is all old hat to people who HAVE been CRM administrators, but to me it was all novel.

Now I could get really fancy and look at advanced analytics, but for my purposes I just needed to know the basics. I’ll show you an example – I included one of my own email accounts on the mailing list, and here is the information that HubSpot provided for the delivery to that email address.

I had several clickable links in the email, and HubSpot told me which of those links my alter ego clicked, and the time that they were clicked.

In addition to viewing individual activity, you can view summary activity for all of the recipients. Even if you’re not performing complex Tableau analyses of the data, the summaries can show you some basic things. For me, one key metric is the Unsubscribe metric – the percentage of those people who never want to receive an email from Bredemarket again. The heat map of the email displays the percentage of clicks on various links, including the Unsubscribe link. I am happy to report that as of right now – 16 hours after I sent the email – my unsubscribe rate is 0%.

So I’ve gone from minimal exposure to a CRM to a basic understanding of what a CRM can do. Hopefully I can use this to serve my potential Bredemarket clients better.

Now I just wish that I had used a CRM for my full-time employment search from day one. Maybe I’d be off of COBRA by now.