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The Freelancer’s Guide to Positioning

Good positioning acts like a homing device.

Positioning guides an audience or prospect looking to achieve a specific goal, to the freelancer that promises to solve a specific problem.

Learning how to use positioning effectively can make you more money and help you find better clients.

Seriously. It can be the one difference you make in your freelance business that separates you from being a freelancer reeking of desperation, taking on any project that comes along just to scrape by, to a freelancer booked solid, months in advance.

Find A Focus

“I don’t fear the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks. I fear the man who has practiced 1 kick 10,000 times.” ~ Bruce Lee

That quote captures the essence of positioning:

A well-positioned business is like the man who has practiced 1 kick 10,000 times.

When you start out, you feel like you have to be everything to everybody. You’ll serve anybody who walks through the door.

“Need a website? I can do that.”

“Need copywriting, photography, logo design, SEO?”

“Sure, no problem.”

The issue with operating like this is that while trying to serve everything to everybody, you end being nothing to no one.

And you never get good at any one thing. You never master anything. Because you have no specialty. No focus.

You’re like a Chinese restaurant that also serves Indian food, Sushi and burgers.

How do you feel when you see all that on the menu? Doesn’t it make you question what they are actually good at?

Would you ever recommend the sushi at a XYZ Chinese restaurant? Of course not.

When you want the best sushi, you go to the best sushi restaurant. Because they are masters at that one thing.

It’s the same thing for a creative firm or freelancer.

Positioning means getting narrow. You can’t position broadly.

Two ways to position yourself

You can position by industry:

“I only work with companies in the medical industry.”

Or

You can position yourself by the services you offer:

“I only work in copywriting.”

Better yet.

Position using both:

“I only work in copywriting in the medical industry.”

Even better:

“I ghost blog for Fortune 500 companies in the medical industry”.

Get really specific about what you do and for whom you do it.

Do that over and over again and soon a Fortune 500 company in the medical industry will come along and say:

“We need copy for the new blog we are launching. We’d like to pick you.”

They’ll pick you because: 

  • You’ve positioned yourself as a medical copywriter, and you are making a promise to solve the exact problem they have
  • Because  you have been at it for so long that you have intimate knowledge of what resonates with their audience
  • Because you were referred by someone who heard about a you. (You specialize in this stuff remember? People refer specialists.)
  • Because you’ve practiced that same thing so many times “you must be good at it.” is the story your client will tell themselves.

The results you’ll get from positioning are:

More money

Specialists can charge more than generalists.

Tim Williams in Positioning For Professionals explains:

“It’s a simple fact that the specialist earns more than the generalist. This is true in medicine, law, engineering, architecture, consulting, construction – you name it. This is because the specialist knows more, and we live and work in a knowledge economy.”

The more you know about any one subject, the more you can charge for it.

If you are known as the best orthopedic surgeon in the country, you can charge like it.

It’s hard to say no when the solution to your problem is standing right in front of you.

Clients know this. They know that for the amount of time and effort it takes them to go out and find the perfect solution, they might as well just go ahead and pay what you are asking for instead.

Positioning works because your perceived value goes way up. It gives you access to a deeper, more lucrative part of the market (the part looking for specialists) that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

Better Clients

If you’ve ever taken on a client just for the money, you know how badly things can go when it’s not a good fit.

Positioning makes it much more likely that you’ll work with clients who are a good fit.

If they are not in the industry you are targeting, or need services that you don’t provide, it makes it super clear that they are not a good fit.

They likely won’t even waste your time in the first place, since it’s clear you are not what they are looking for. This is a good thing. A really good thing.

More Clients To Choose From

At the same time that you’ll be getting rid of 99% of the clients who are not a good fit, you’ll be attracting many more of the clients who are a great fit. Clients looking for exactly what you are good at.

Don’t be afraid of getting specific with your offering. The world is a huge place. There are many clients out there dying to work with the right professional.

There are also people who are happy to pass along your name if they feel like you are a good fit.

Would you refer someone who MIGHT be able to fix your colleague’s problem? Or would you refer the person you KNOW would be perfect for their project?

Better Projects

When it’s obvious that you are a great fit for a project, it also makes it really easy to close a deal.

The more deals you close, the more you can raise prices and give yourself the luxury of choosing which clients and which projects to work on.

You can ask yourself “which project sounds like the most fun?” Or,  “Which project will help my business grow?”

A More Refined Work Process

When you specialize, you are able to tinker with the process until you get it just right.

You can get super efficient because you are refining your process and getting better everyday.

The more efficient you are, the more work you can handle and the more money you can make. This is key if you want to scale your business.

Efficiency = more free time. More free time = more capacity. More capacity = more volume. More volume = more money. 

Working For The Long Haul

Can you see how once you get to this point you can look at your business in a strategic way? You are naturally doing more work ON your business and less work IN your business.

There is this ripple effect that touches everything in your business in a good way.

You are no longer working on whatever comes your way. Instead, you are being deliberate and intentional about what makes the most sense for your business.

Be a professional and position your business.

Aim to be the man who has practiced 1 kick 10,000 times.

Why positioning is hard

Positioning is Counter Intuitive

You might think getting narrow means you’ll be missing out on work. It does. But ask yourself if work, just for the sake of work, is what you are after?

Is it more work you want? Or is it to work less for the same or more pay?

Aim to work smarter, not harder. 

It closes you off to possibilities

It might seem boring to narrow your focus after having such a wide array of possibilities to work on.

But if you are more efficient with your time because of your more refined work process, you get to help more people and can lead to more possibilities down the road.

There is also nothing boring about having a thriving business that gives you room to breath and the choice to work on side projects if you want to.

How to position your freelance business

To start…

1. Pick an audience

Start with the audience you will serve. Go through your work history and find a group you already have experience with.

For example: If you’re a photographer who’s done a few interior design shoots, commit to only working with interior designers, instead of doing weddings, portraits, fashion, etc.

All you need to get going are two to three case studies.

Starting from scratch with an audience you’ve never worked with before can work, but it’ll be harder and take more time.

It’s also better to choose a group you feel comfortable working with. Ask yourself “are these my people?” Or, at the very least, “are these the type of people I’m wiling to work with for the long haul?”

Don’t go after electricians if that’s not a crowd you feel comfortable serving.

You’ll be serving their needs for as long as you are in business, so make sure it’s a group of people you enjoy being around.

2. Do your research

Hang out where your audience hangs out.

Search for online forums where you can get in touch with them and get an idea of what types of problems they have and what is holding their business back.

Talk to them. Ask them questions. Set up Skype calls to get to know them better. Find out what burning pains/needs they have. You’ll see a common thread keep popping up.

Once you know what their common problems are, you can devise a solution to those problems.

3. Speak their Language

What you find in your research is that this group has similar problems and they talk about those problems in a similar way.

If you don’t speak their language they won’t be as receptive to your marketing.

When you build your offer you can refer to your research and infuse that language back in to the offering.

Doing so makes them feel understood. They won’t feel like that if you don’t tell it to them in their own words.

You are not misleading anyone, or using fancy marketing tactics when you do this. You are actually being extremely respectful of this audience by letting them know they are being heard.

4. Fix their expensive problem

Pick a problem or set of problems that you can charge handsomely for.

“Position yourself as a solver of expensive problems” Says Philip Morgan in his book The Positioning Manual For Technical Firms. Philip goes on to say, “Positioning yourself in this way makes you a low-risk, no-brainer choice for clients facing your expensive problem.”

There are all kinds of problems your potential clients face. Problems that are cheap to fix, and problems that are expensive to fix.

It’s your choice which problem you choose to fix, but try to fix one that will make the biggest difference in their business.

For you as a provider, it cost the same in time and effort to position yourself as a fixer of xyz problem, and most of the time, the problems that make the biggest difference once solved, are the most expensive. So choose wisely.

Also:

Finding the intersection between what YOU want to work on and what YOUR client needs is the key.

Just because you are really passionate about something doesn’t mean your client will want it.

Clients don’t care about your passion. They care about solving their problems. 

So…

5. Don’t fix a problem they don’t have

For example:

Don’t say you’ll help freelance creatives decide which digital asset management system to purchase. They don’t need that service! They don’t have an efficiency problem with digital file management like a large corporation might.

Make sure that the service you offer matches up with a problem your audience needs solved.

6. Communicate your offer clearly 

Don’t use platitudes. Show specific results. Saying “we can help your business thrive. We are passionate about X, comes across as vague and unprovable.

Be specific about the outcomes. Show me. Don’t tell me.

You passion for the service you offer is implicit. It’s table stakes and the client already expects it.

 

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