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By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

On Sunday, when driving home from dinner and a movie with my wife, we took a detour home and she remarked that she'd like to go hiking in the area. I could certainly appreciate that as it was beautiful, forested, rolling countryside. 

And then she said, "I'd like to go hiking here and I'd like you to come with me but you don't like hiking any more." 

Well, that irritated me a bit.

I replied to her, "Sweetie, you just put me in a box right then as someone who doesn't like to hike. Is that really true?"

"Well, every time I've asked you to come hiking with me recently, you haven't wanted to come."

"Yes," I said, "But as you know I've had a lot of pain in my hip recently, so at the time I didn't want to go. But does that mean I don't like hiking anymore?"

"Well, I guess not, but you haven't gone for a long time." 

"That's true, but if you put me in a box like that, you may stop asking me, even when my hip is better, and you may start thinking of me as someone who doesn't like to hike. And that's just not true."

Do you put your prospects into boxes?

During the rest of the ride home I thought about how we all tend to put people into boxes: "This person is this way and that person is that way." We don't see the person anymore, but identify them with some way of being or behaving that is very limiting... and often completely incorrect.

I see this happen all the time with Independent Professionals who are trying to attract new clients. I may suggest they explore speaking to a certain person or check out a certain group to speak to. And often the response I get is, "Oh, they wouldn't be interested" or "I don't think my talk is right for that group."

Now they've put these prospects into a box and have defined how they believe these prospects will react before they've had any contact with that prospect. They prejudge and therefore avoid taking action. 

Sadly, we usually think we're doing the right thing. 

In many cases, I've urged a client to pursue a certain connection and gotten a skeptical reaction. But they gave it a try to humor me. And more often than not, the connection was a valuable one that led in the right direction. 

When we put potential prospects, situations and experiences into a box, we cut ourselves off from new opportunities. Which of the following judgements do you make about prospects?

They are not the right clients for me

They wouldn't be interested in what I offer

They don't have enough money for my services

They wouldn't have the time for this

Now look, in some cases you may be 100% right. But in so many cases, you're manufacturing these limitations though your own boxed-in thinking.

Are these boxes real?

We meet people, but we really don't know what's going on beneath the surface. We don't know their situation, their needs and desires. We don't know their issues and challenges. 

And then, because we tend to put people into a box about ten seconds after meeting them, we completely close off the possibility of finding out who they really are and whether or not we can help them.  

How about stopping mind reading and do a reality check. How can you really know the possibilities until you've stopped judging and made an authentic connection with someone?  

You can't!

The next time you meet someone in the course of your life and work, whether at a grocery store or a networking event, stop for a moment and realize: "I really know absolutely nothing about this person. They are a mystery to me. They are like a completely unknown country that I haven't yet explored."

You might notice that your judgments subside as you find yourself in the presence of an incredible being with unlimited potential and possibility. Isn't that someone you'd want to to get to know a little bit better?

When you release people from the boxes you've created for them, virtually anything is possible!

Who knows, they might become a client or lead you to a client. 

By the way, next week my wife and I are going to Sedona and will be hiking every day. So much for that box!

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by  Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

If you want to get more attention for your business, start paying attention to Keywords.

Everyone knows what Google does; it looks up the information you want to know in response to the keywords you enter into the Google search engine. 

Well, you can use the same keyword principles Google uses to find your ideal clients, and no technology is required! 

The best way to explain this is to give you a simple example. 

I meet someone in a bar and asks what he does.

He says, "I have a business buying and selling cars."

OK, that give me a general idea, but then he follows up with more details:

"I specialized in selling used Mercedes, renovating them until they are in mint condition and selling them mostly to car collectors." 

Now let's compare that to a Google Search. But in this case, Google is my brain. After all, to a great extent, our brains are highly complex databases, just like Google. 

When you put very general keywords into Google for "buying and selling cars" you'll find some articles about buying and selling cars and some places to buy used cars. 

But if I put in the words used "Mercedes, renovate, and mint condition," a long list of used Mercedes in mint condition for sale come up in Google. (try it!)

The principle is simple: The better the keywords in the search, the better the search results. 

So how does this work in marketing and in the brain of my prospective clients? Let's play a similar scenario. 

I'm at a networking event and someone asks me what I do. 

And I say, "I help small businesses with their marketing."

The keywords are "small business and marketing." 

The person who hears this message does a global brain search and comes up with some generalized pictures of small business and marketing. It's not very attention-getting or interesting. 

He's unlikely to come up with the names of some people who own small businesses and need marketing help. It's just too general. He creates his own picture that fits that description to some degree.

But let's say I use very different words. 

"I work with self-employed professionals such as coaches and consultants who are struggling with their marketing."

Now I'm being a lot more specific as there are more concise keywords: "self-employed professionals, coaches, consultants, struggling, and marketing." 

Now the brain has to search a little harder to sort all those out. It's less likely they will come up with a general picture; the picture will be more specific and focused. 

In other words, they will actually understand you!

I worked with a client recently on this concept. I told her that she must be more specific about the issues and problems her clients were experiencing in order for those in her network to refer people to her. 

Her initial marketing message was, "I work with people who have issues in leadership that are holding them back."

OK, that's a good opening message. Then I suggested she create a one-pager to give even more details of those specific leadership issues her ideal clients were experiencing. For instance:

The kind of leadership issues my clients experience are:

1. Failure to give feedback to employees which results in performance that never improves.

2. Failure to make time for their team which results in team members being directionless.

3. Failure to be more hands-on which results in performance errors that are costly and result in re-dos and angry clients.

4. Failure to delegate which results in overwork on the part of the leader, and team members with little responsibility. 

Now, if she communicates that list to people in her network, their brains will do database searches on all of those keywords and are very likely to find some matches. 

"Oh, I have someone who works in my department who really has problems both with giving feedback and delegating."

Now you're communicating specifically, not generally. 

Plus, your marketing is moving from being conceptual to being experience-based. All of those words that describe her clients who have those leadership issues match the actual experience of those who could refer her to these kinds of clients. 

So when you are developing your marketing messages, and written materials, use the keywords in your communication that will point to actual experiences your listeners have had. 

This can take a lot of mystery out of marketing. Instead of...

"We optimize your revenue position to minimize your tax exposure." 

You say…

"We help you reduce the amount of taxes you pay."

The first one is completely conceptual and confusing, while the second one is clear as those keywords connect to an experience everyone understands. 

When you think of creating your marketing messages, think of those two simple concepts:

1. Keywords that will make the right connections in the prospects brain. 

2. Keywords that relate to actual experiences.   

If you have any comments about this article, please share on the blog by clicking on the Comemnts link below.

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By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

If your business is struggling, it's time to revive it.  

What's are the most important things in your life?

Well, other than your family and close friends, I think your business should rate very high. 

After all, you conceived of it, gave birth to it, nurtured it and maintained it. And now (hopefully) it provides a living for you and a means of creative expression and making a difference in the world. 

What could be more important than that?

If you see your business this way, you'll continue to treat it well, respect it, educate it, celebrate it, invest in it and love it. 

And if you do that, like your family, it will thrive and bring you rewards beyond what you could imagine. 

But as you know, it's not all roses, roses. With roses come thorns. 

There are hard times when things are not working the way you want; there are often long hours and hard and complex work. In fact, your business can be downright frustrating, even infuriating at times. You will have breakdowns, not always followed by breakthroughs. 

And when this happens, we often forget the value of our business and the fact that we are ultimately responsible for its well-being. And then we may begin to neglect our business. We feel angry at it and don't give it the love and attention it deserves. 

And how does that work out? Not so well, right?

First we might let our businesses get disorganized and sloppy. We get behind on our planning and book work. Perhaps we don't implement the tools and systems to keep it on track and we get behind on our business technology.

And when this happens we soon discover that our business is not giving back to us as much as we used to get. We're not getting as much satisfaction or fulfillment. We're not getting as much joy as we used to from serving our clients. 

Even worse, we forget to feed our business. 

We cut back on our marketing efforts and get sloppy about follow-up and selling. When we don't perform these activities well, our business starts to loose weight (shedding customers) and gets slow and lethargic. 

After a few years our business may be shadow of its former self. We spend very little time nurturing it and it becomes a burden, something we'd rather not think about much. 

Now it's most typical that this neglect of a business will happen after being in business for several years. But it's not uncommon for it to happen in just a year or two. Growing and succeeding in your business became harder than you had bargained for, so you just stopped making the effort. 

You really have three choices at this point. 

Either you keep going the way you've been going and hope things will change. But I promise you, they won't. Change depends on you, not on external conditions. 

The other option is to simply end your business and move on to something else that is more appropriate for you in your life right now. Often it's hard to admit you've come to that place. 

And the other choice is to renew your business. 

Business renewal is like taking a starving and neglected child, nursing it back to health, giving it the best food and care and giving more time and attention to it, with plans and strategies for the way you organize and market your business. 

I'm guessing most reading this would opt for choice #3.

Whether your business is just slipping a bit or is free-falling into disaster, you've got to take some decisive action. The problem is that you have developed many bad business habits and to change habits is a very challenging thing. It's easy to fall back into these old habits, despite your desire to change. 

So what can you do?

The only thing you can do that will work is to get help. There is really no other alternative. You need to get help, support, encouragement, systems, and reinforcement until you can stand on your own again and take care of your business.

If you don't, the chances of failure are close to 100%.

So what help can you get? The first thing I always recommend is coaching of some kind or other. It's important that you find someone who understands the nurturing and feeding of a business and who can give you the guidance, support and accountability to turn things around.

The cost of a coach is minuscule compared to the cost of letting your business atrophy or fail completely. 

When I started my business I didn't have the money to hire a coach, but I had the energy, creativity and drive to learn on my own, attend seminars and workshops and get things moving without much hands-on help. 

But in later years, when things became more complex and I was feeling overwhelmed by everything I had to do, I hired a coach with whom I brainstormed and came up with ideas, solutions and strategies for marketing that took me outside my comfort zone. 

And I produced results at a whole new level. 

Not only did I dramatically increase my income, I started having much more fun in my business. I went from working with clients individually to working with them in group programs. 

And I'm absolutely certain that none of that would have happened without a coach who kept challenging me, and having me continually look at my business in new ways. 

There's a saying, "Not everyone needs a coach, only those who want to be champions."  

Now, ask yourself seriously if you are ready for a coach.

Are you ready to admit to being weak in some areas of your business as well as admitting that you've developed some bad habits (such as avoidance) that are holding your business back? 

Are you ready to get past all of that and start creating something for your future that you can be proud and excited about? Are you ready to work harder than you've worked for in a long time and really go for it instead of making half-hearted efforts?

Are you ready to discover the greatness inside of you who is no longer interested in settling for mediocrity and just getting by?

If so, you may be ready for a coach. 

So start looking around for one. Believe, me there's a lot of them out there who are amazing. And many of them are very affordable.

Right now my coaching availability is very limited. Because of my group programs and the More Clients Club, I can take on only 10 clients at a time. Right now I have two spaces open. 

If you'd like to talk, first visit the page below and fill out the form at the bottom. But please, only people who are really serious about taking their business to a whole new place. 

http://actionplan.com/services

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By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

Wouldn't it be great if people really got what you did in your business? Well, maybe not…

"If I could only explain what I do, I know people would be interested."

This is what we tell ourselves, and in our heart of hearts, we believe it. We know that if people could only understand what our business was all about, then clients would come flying through the door. 

But my experience is quite different. In fact, I've observed just the opposite. Even when people know exactly what you do in excruciating detail, it makes little difference to them and they are no more likely to do business with you.

It can actually turn people off if you talk about what you do. 

"How can this be?" you exclaim, as you put more and more work into explaining how your services work. You see, this is a very hard habit to break. 

Why? Because our attention is focused in the wrong direction. Our marketing is all about us. Sure, you've head this before, but I want to make it even more crystal clear. 

To do this we need to do a simple "marketing experiment."

I want to imaging that you have switched places with your prospects and clients. You have become them. You no longer see through your eyes, but their eyes.

And imagine you (they) are looking for business coaching services on the Internet. You put in the keywords: Business Coaching Boston (or you city name) and you generate a list of businesses. Take a look at a few of them. 

Actually do this right now. I'll wait. 

What do you notice first? 

Did you notice the design, look and feel of the site? The site's attractiveness occurs to you on a scale of "ugly to beautiful." Just notice that the more attractive it seems, the more you are compelled to look further. This all happened in a second or two. 

What do you notice next?

You start by reading the text on the page. You might read a headline, the navigation or some of the text. What attracts your eye the most and gets you more into the site?

There are a lot of options here. Do you notice you are more attracted to read information about the kind of clients they work with and the results they've produced for their clients or are you attracted to read information all about them and who they are and what they do?

I'll bet it's the first two. But don't take my word for it. Take a look at several web pages and just see where your attention is naturally taken. 

Do you want to know more or is your interest not stimulated enough to want to know more? 

Are you more interested in Testimonials and Case Studies or the information on the "About Us" Page? Just notice where you automatically go on the site and when you feel like leaving. 

I'm betting that you'll come to some of the same conclusions I've come to. 

1. A web page that is attractive, well-designed, well-written and easy to read will pull you in and get you to stick around longer. 

Note that this has nothing to do with what you do!

2. You are attracted to information that "meets you where you are" that is, it's clear who the coach is speaking to and seems to understand who you are and your challenges. 

Again, this really isn't about what you do. 

3. You are attracted to results, testimonials and case studies, but only when they are credible and not "over-the-top" and talk about results you can really relate to. 

And resuls aren't about what you do either.

4. Only last, will you want to find out how the coach works, how his or her services are structured and how you can contact them. 

And if this is mostly true for you, what conclusions might you arrive at? You might start to see that "what you do and how you work" is not nearly as important as you thought. 

You might be shocked to notice how much appearance and design have to do with a positive impression, before you know anything else about the business. 

And you also might find yourself somewhat frustrated that the majority of websites don't communicate very authentically about how they help their clients. It's often over-the-top generalities: "You'll see amazing increases in productivity."

Now ask yourself, "Given these observations and insights, is my marketing attention in the right place?" Don't you need to focus on so many things other than explaining what you do? 

Isn't it more important to create an inviting environment and talk to your prospective clients about results in a way that is both believable and compelling?

Now, all of this is also true if you meet someone face-to-face.

The same dynamic is going on. People make a snap judgment of you in a second or two, before they even hear your message. 

How you're dressed, eye contact, your smile and handshake all communicate subtly but powerfully. And then, when you open your mouth, are you saying something that's interesting and thought-provoking that's related to results, or are you talking all about yourself?

The more you can observe what attracts you, what draws you in, the easier it will be to develop a marketing approach that, above everything else, speaks directly to the needs of your clients. 

I'd like to get your feedback on this article. What were your actual observations? What would you change in your marketing based on what you learned?

If you have any comments about this article, please share on the blog by clicking on the Comments link below. 

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by Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

If You're Struggling with Marketing, There Are Two Big Keys That You May be Missing. 

I've heard some version of the following so many times I can't remember:

"Marketing is such a struggle for me. It's no fun, takes too much time and doesn't get very good results. What do I have to do to make marketing work for me?"

If you were sitting down at a table with me and asked this question, I'd first focus on two Big Keys to marketing success. 

And these keys would not be what you'd expect. In fact very few people really think about these two things, but they are undoubtedly the most important and determine your experience of and success at marketing. 

Ready? Here they are: 

1. First you want to figure out what you are good at and what you love to do. When I started my business in 1984 I was clear of only one thing: I was good at teaching and coaching people. If I understood something, I was great at helping others understand it as well. That's it. 

So I started by helping people set goals and get organized. And a few years later, I started helping small business owners with their marketing. I've been at it now for 30 years. And I still love teaching and coaching. 

Whether you just started your business or have been at it for several years, do you really love what you do? Are you immersed in it? Do you read about it, talk about it, write about it and share about it to anyone who will listen?

If so, great! If not, marketing is going to be harder for you. It's the passion, the commitment, the determination to do your work well and make a difference that will give you the energy to keep at it when things get hard (and there are always hard times). 

2. Find an audience or a group of people who need what you have to offer. When I started my business I did a lot of networking and met a lot of people. After some time I discovered that my ideal clients were much like me - self-employed professionals. I could relate to them and liked them and they also needed my help. 

So it was easy to communicate with them. I understood their problems and struggles because I'd gone through them as well. I knew how to help them because everything they wanted to know I had already done successfully

I see a lot of people trying to go after clients who they don't understand. For instance, they have never worked in a corporation and try to sell their services to corporations. Perhaps they were corporate types before they went out on their own and are trying to market products or services to small business people who they just can't relate to.  

It's not that you can't learn about your ideal clients if you are not very familiar with them. But it will take longer and it might never feel comfortable. I once worked with a woman who focused on working with real estate agents and joined a real estate agent networking group. A year later she woke up and realized: "I don't even like these people, why am I trying to do business with them!"

If you can first nail down these two things, marketing is going to be a whole lot easier for you. You'll be passionate about what you do and communicate to people who understand you and need you. 

Sure, there are a lot of marketing principles and strategies that will help you become a better marketer of your services, but it won't come so hard if you're in the right business and working with the people you can help the most. 

So ask yourself…

"Am I really in the right business, doing what I'm good at and love?" And if not, what can you do to make some changes (which might take some time) to focus more on what will really make you happy in your business?

And, "Are the people and businesses I'm going after as new clients, the kind of people I can not only help, but like?" If not, where can you look to find those kind of clients who will appreciate you and get the most value from your services?

If you have any comments about this article, please share on the blog by clicking on the Comments link below.

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Why Promoting Your Promotion is More Important (and Effective) Than Directly Promoting Your Professional Services

by Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

Many years ago, when I was reading a lot of marketing books, I learned about the power of promoting the promotion.  

The one that sticks in my mind the most was the advertisement by Sherwin Cody first published in 1918 with the famous headline: "Do You Make These Mistakes in English?"

That ad, written by Max Sackheim, offered a course in common English usage which covered the topics of Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar.

The headline was attention-getting by pointing to the copy with the words, "These Mistakes." You had to read the ad to find out what these mistakes were. And the body copy, a few hundred words long, consisted mostly of interesting facts such as:

"For instance, statistics show that a list of sixty nine words (with their repetitions) make up for than half our speech and letter writing. Obviously if one could learn to spell, use and pronounce these words correctly, one would go far toward eliminating incorrect spelling and pronunciation."

It also included stories and in-depth examples:

"Some years ago Mr. Cody was invited by the author of the famous Gary System of Education to teach English to all upper-grade pupils in Gary, Indiana. By means of unique practice exercises, Mr Cody secured more improvement in these pupils in five weeks than had previously been obtained by similar pupils in two years under old methods."

But one of the best parts of the ad is the call-to-action…

"Those who are interested (in Mr. Cody's new method) can find a detailed description in a fascinating little book called "How You Can Master Good English in 15 Minutes a Day." It can be had by anyone, free upon request. There is no obligation involved in writing for it. The book is more than a prospectus. Unquestionably, it tells one of the most interesting stories about education in English ever written."

Then the ad points to a small coupon to be filled in and mailed. The ad does not try to attempt to sell the course. It leaves the heavy lifting of selling to the free book (and no doubt sales letter)that the prospect received in the mail. 

For most small businesses, the art of promoting the promotion as demonstrated in this ad is a lost art. By the way, this ad was extraordinarily successful, running for over 40 years, generating millions of dollars in sales of his course. 

How can you incorporate Promoting the Promotion in your marketing?

The principle is simple and can be used in many ways. 

In Networking: Talk to people about success stories and give interesting explanations about why your work produces results. Don't talk about the step-by-step process of what you do. People will want to know more. Offer to send them an article explaining your "Six Ways to Increase Employee Buy-In." And then, of course, follow up to learn more about their needs. 

On Your Website: Don't just ask people to sign-up for your free email newsletter (ezine). That's not enough. Where's the benefit? Instead, have a page dedicated to telling about the powerful results you've produced with your clients and then offer that free article on "Six Ways to Increase Employee Buy-In."  The monthly ezine subscription comes as a free bonus. Do this and see your subscription rates soar. 

Via Email: Don't send a long email saying how great your services are, asking them to sign up. Instead, offer them a complimentary "Strategy Session and Assessment on Employee Buy-In." No charge if you request one in the next week. And then, before you meet, send them more information on your services so they understand how you can help them. 

The essential principle is simple: Don't promote your service, promote the promotion. Promote that free article or report or teleclass or webinar or Strategy Session. Get your prospects interested and then give them something valuable that will make them want even more. 

If you have any comments about this article, please share on the blog by clicking on the Comments link below.

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by Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

There are so many parts to marketing as an Independent Professional that it can be hard to know where to focus your efforts and build your skills. 

I talked about this two weeks ago, but I'd like to focus a little more on one area that comes into every aspect of marketing. 

And that's "Marketing Conversations."

You could define a marketing conversation as any interaction you have with a prospective client where you talk about your business and the prospect's business. 

The purpose of any marketing conversation is to make a connection where ultimately the prospect becomes interested in doing business with you. 

Here are my foolproof guidelines on having successful marketing conversations. 

1. Anyone could be a prospect. When someone asks you what you do, they might be a good potential client. So you want to answer in a way that engages and interests them. Don't just say, "I'm a management consultant" and hope they jump up and down with excitement!

2. Instead, when you answer, use a problem-oriented or solution-oriented "Audio Logo" that includes 2 elements: Who you work with and how you help them. 

Problem-oriented: "I work with leaders in high-tech firms who don't have the level of productivity they know is possible." 

Solution-oriented: "I work with leaders in high-tech firms who are looking for higher productivity from their employees."

You have to test audio logos to see what works best. Ultimately settle on the message that gets the best response. 

3. Pause and wait for a response. The biggest mistake you can make here is to talk too much. Don't do that. Take the attention off yourself and listen to what the prospect says. 

If they say something like "Oh, how do you do that?" or "What approaches do you take to get those results?" then you have an opening to say more. 

4. But you don't want to respond the way most people respond. Most say something like, "Well, we do various workshops and programs and also do some coaching." This kind of response (which, by the way is the most common), is all about your process and all about you. Sure it's what you do, but it doesn't answer the hidden question: "What's in it for me?"

You also position yourself as a commodity when you answer with your process. You sound like every management consultant in the world. Not good for your marketing or memorability!

5. Answer with a story, instead: "Well, perhaps the best way to explain what I do is to give you an example of a client I worked with recently. I worked with a team in a company that was very dysfunctional and productivity was way down. I did some work with them, improved communication and reduced conflict and now they are regarded as the one of the most effective teams in the company." 

So you need to pick out a few good stories, often called Cinderella Stories: "This is how bad it was. Then we came in and provided the help they needed. And now things are great." 

But these need to be real stories representing real clients that you produced real results for. Someone just told me such a story recently, and although I wasn't a potential client for him, I completely got how powerful and valuable his services were. I actually got excited because of the way he told his story. 

If you can't get this across, why do you think they'd be interested in anything else?

6. Continue with the conversation, mostly putting your attention on the prospect and asking about their situation, their goals and challenges. Don't jump in with how great your services are and how they'd be a perfect client for you. 

There are so many possibilities in a marketing conversation when it gets to this point, that it's impossible to give step-by-step instructions, but if you focus more on listening than talking, you'll always do better. If they want to know more, tell more, but avoid going on and on about everything you do. 

7. As a marketing conversation winds up, there are multiple possibilities. One, you don't see a possible connection with this prospect, for whatever reason, and you don't follow up. Two, you see some possibility but you're not sure, and Three, you see a real possibility to work with this person. 

For possibilities Two and Three, let them know you have an article you think they'd be interested in and ask if you can send it. You might also ask if you can add them to your e-list. For possibility number Three, you should also say you'd like to talk with them more and will get back to them. 

8. Then the final step is to follow up with number Three prospects. Call them, email them, persist until you reach them. And in this call, let them know you think you might be able to help them in some way or the other, but that you'd have to speak in more depth. That, in turn, can lead to a selling conversation or what I often call a "Strategy Session." 

The purpose of marketing is to get Strategy Sessions. that's where marketing ends and selling begins. And it almost always takes some kind of marketing conversation before you get to a selling conversation, even if someone called you from a strong referral. Don't just jump into a Strategy Session until you know that this prospect is well-qualified.

If you follow this approach to connecting with prospects through marketing conversations, I promise you'll get more Strategy Sessions and convert more of them into good, paying clients. 

If you have any comments about this article, please share on the blog by clicking on the Comments link below. 

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by Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

Once I heard a very interesting quote:

"The more vacations you take, the more money you make."

Now, I know some would question whether this was cause or effect - perhaps because if you make more money you can go on more vacations, but I think it's true. 

But perhaps, more important, just getting away from your business for a week or two gives you valuable perspective and reminds you that what you wanted to get from your business in the first place was more time and freedom for yourself. 

But then you became so caught up by the momentum of your business that you can't seem to catch a moment for yourself. 

Before I got married in 1995, I took no vacations. Just going somewhere by myself didn't excite me. But when I got married, my wife let me know in no uncertain terms that we were going to take vacations!

So we did. We've been to Europe a few times, to Hawaii a few times and several places in the US and Canada. Our favorite vacation spot is in Sedona AZ and also Mazatlan Mexico. 

One of the best things I like about vacations is getting everything caught up before I go. All my client and business projects, all my emails, bills and paperwork are completely caught up before I step out the door. 

That doesn't mean I never bring my work with me. 

One of my favorite things to do on vacation is to plan and write and dream about what I'l do next in my business. And with all that free time and no client meetings or classes I become more creative. 

I've thought up some of my best business ideas on vacation. And two years ago I went to Mexico for several weeks and wrote a book while I was there. 

Now, in addition to vacations, both my wife and I attend spiritual retreats a couple times a year. She attends hers and I attend mine, which works out great because we can focus on the retreat and not worry about how each other is doing. 

A spiritual retreat can be almost anything that brings you back to yourself and the quiet place inside. It could be a few days alone, mediating and writing. It might be intensive sessions with a spiritual teacher. Whatever works for you. 

I'm headed out for a retreat right after writing this ezine. And I'm excited, not just because of the value I'll get from the retreat, but the opportunity to "unplug" from my day-to-day business life. 

I always come back renewed and ready to jump back into my business and ordinary life. 

But getting away doesn't come by accident. You need to intend it, plan it, organize it and budget it. So many people say they'd like to take more vacations or a retreat, but justify some reason why they can't:

"I'm just too busy right now, I really can't afford it, I don't like sightseeing or lying on a beach."

Well, why not design a getaway that would work for you instead? What's something you really enjoy that you could incorporate into your vacation? I know someone who went to France and spent a week at a cooking school!

My sister, Wendy, is a real vacation expert. She's gone on vacations all over the world. My sister Maria goes on three-month vacations to Mexico every year and gets away from the cold Canadian winters. She often rents out her home, short-term, and it's actually cheaper to live in Mexico!

I just want to challenge you to commit to a vacation or retreat this year (perhaps even both). And if taking vacations are still a bit of a stretch, do a short-term "staycation" where you stay home for four or fives days without working. Eat out and go to movies and visit the local museum or other special place. 

But don't work your tail off for the next twenty years, hoping to retire in some tropical paradise someday. It will probably never happen. Start your vacation plan today! 

Oh, by the way, I make a whole lot more money since I started taking vacations!

For those of you who do take vacations, please inspire us and share where and how you take vacations or retreats to renew yourself. Share on the blog by clicking on the Comments link below. 

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by Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

Over the years I've had conversations with people who needed help with their marketing. Perhaps they were referred or responded to my marketing promotions. 

Here's a conversation with a "composite person" (I'll call him Ronnie), who wanted to know how he could get better marketing results and where he should start.   

Ronnie launched his coaching business about three years ago. He has enough clients to get by, but could handle many more clients. 

Most of his clients come from word-of-mouth, but he does a little networking and spends a lot of time on social media to build his visibility. But his marketing doesn't have a lot of traction. 

Ronnie asked me where he should put his marketing efforts, and this is the answer I gave him: 

"If I was in your position, I'd go to as many networking events I could find. Several a week. And I'd also work on getting speaking gigs. I'd speak anywhere that had Independent Professionals in attendance. And then I'd build my e-list from these two groups."  

"But right now, you get most of your clients online, don't you? Why wouldn't you start with more online marketing since you know it so well?"

"Knowing how to do online marketing is only part of the equation. The other part is having a list large enough to get results. You need a few thousand to get a decent response. And that takes time. If I was starting out, I'd work on building my list, but wouldn't depend on online marketing to fill my practice yet. 

"This is why I'd make it a priority to meet a lot of people in my target market and build the know-like-trust factor. That's what you've failed to do. Not enough people know who you are and how you can help them."

"Well, this is why I'm building my social media connections. I have a few thousand on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and I post there often. So instead of live networking, I'm working at gaining visibility online."

"Well, that sounds good on paper," I said, "but social media connections are a far cry from real relationships. I'd trade one good live connection for 100 social media connections. Those are real relationships with people you've interacted with in person. 

"Tell me, Ronnie, how many of those social media connections would know you if you called them to have a discussion? Would they even remember who you were and what you did?"

"I get your point," said Ronnie, "I guess not. So tell me again, where you would focus?"

"I'll tell you how I did it in my business. I started with a lot of networking, I joined several groups and even started a group. I met a whole lot of people face-to-face, and that enabled me to refine my message and get better at talking about how I helped my clients. That was essential. 

"Then I started giving talks. And I found this to be even more effective. Networking had given me a foundation to build on and speaking gave me a whole lot of visibility and credibility."

"But you started before there was an Internet," remarked Ronnie, "Since that's now a reality, how would you integrate that?"

"Good question. I'd get the best website I could afford and load it with lots of great content, start a blog and optimize my site so that lots of visitors opted-in to get my reports and join my ezine list. And I'd also start building my list through networking and speaking. 

"But I wouldn't sit around for hours on social media, sending out posts and waiting for people to call me. Instead, I'd be proactive and get out there and connect with real-live people." 

"OK, I'm starting to get the picture. You'd have a good website and you'd network and speak to groups. And then would you expect people call you to work with you?"

"Unfortunately, that's one of the biggest myths of marketing: "Build it and they will come." Boy, how I wish that were true. That can definitely happened once you have a lot of visibility and credibility and have built a solid e-list that you stay in touch with."

"So what do you do if you don't wait?"

"When I realized people weren't going to call me, I called them. I'd collect cards at a networking meeting or after a speaking engagement and follow-up with them. I'd have short conversations and explore whether or not there was enough of a connection to take the conversation further."

"I can see doing everything else you talked about, but I'm not so sure about follow-up. Isn't that pushy?"

"Tell me this, didn't you ever meet someone whose services interested you and you gave them your business card and they never followed up?"

"All the time."

"And isn't that a bit frustrating?"

"I guess so. I see what you're saying. If someone shows interest, it only makes sense to follow-up. That doesn't mean I have to be pushy and try to oversell myself, right?"

"Exactly. So the thing to remember about marketing your business is that it's about building relationships, not making impressions. It's about getting to know people and following-up. It's not about posting something with a clever quote."

"So what place does social media have in my business?"

"Think of it as keep-in-touch marketing. Your social media contacts should be people you know, not a lot of strangers who want to friend you. So posting things once in awhile certainly doesn't hurt, and sending out an ezine to your list is even better, because more of them will actually read it."

"This is starting to make more sense!"

"I'm glad. So what are you going to start to do?"

"Just what you said. More networking for sure, and I'll start looking at speaking engagements as well. But I'm not sure where to start with that. Is that something you can help me with?"

"Give me your card and I'll give you a call tomorrow."

If you have comments on this article, please share on the blog by clicking on the Comemnts link below. 

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by Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

In playing the game of marketing, it's very much like dating. Let's look at the parallels: 

The Connection

In dating, first you meet someone. You start a conversation, and perhaps there's a mutual attraction. If there's some interest, one of you suggests getting together again. You exchange contact information (usually on a cell phone) and you agree to be in touch. 

In marketing, first you meet someone. You start a conversation and perhaps there's a mutual connection. Perhaps one of you can help the other in some way. If there's some interest, the one who can help the other asks to send some information and follow-up. You exchange information. 

The Follow-up

In dating, after the first meeting, one of you screws up the courage to call and has a further conversation. If the rapport and interest are there, someone suggests a date and the other accepts. 

In marketing, after the first meeting, the one providing the service screws up the courage to call and has a further conversation. If the rapport and interest are there, this person suggests a more in-depth conversation. 

The Date

In dating, you go out on your "first official date" and get to know each other better. You explore your mutual interests and become more comfortable with each other. If it goes well, you agree on a second date and perhaps, if the relationship grows, it might ultimately lead to a proposal of marriage. 

In marketing, you meet for a "complimentary session" and get to know each other better. You explore your mutual interests and become more comfortable with each other. If it goes well, you agree on the next meeting and if the relationship grows, it might ultimately lead to a proposal to work together.

Now sometimes the process goes quite quickly with both dating and marketing. And sometimes it takes a longer time. In both cases you are feeling each other out, telling stories, revealing what you can offer and building trust. Ultimately the connection goes somewhere or it doesn't. And you move on.  

The thing that we often miss in both scenarios is that the relationship only moves forward if someone asks for something. It rarely just happens by itself. No asking, no future or no sale. 

It seems simple enough:

Connect - meet - explore - ask 

But wait a minute. It might seem simple as a process, but it's far from simple in real life, because asking isn't just asking. It's more about being accepted, being liked, being valued. 

So if you don't ask, you can't get rejected. 

One of my Club Members just posted this on the Club Forum:

"I often do a great job of engaging a prospect and getting them to third base and don't ask for the sale. I've been working on this issue for the past year to figure out what's stopping me from asking. I know a lot is because I don't like hearing "No" when I do ask, but it goes a lot deeper. I realized I'm a positive person by nature and like to see the glass half full. I realized marketing and sales is completely opposite of my personality. I love hearing "Yes" and marketing and sales results in a lot more "Noes" than "Yeses"."

Exactly! And if you avoid asking, not only are you not alone in this, you are in the majority. Everyone avoids asking because they don't like to hear NO! It's not fun, it's painful. 

So here are some things you can do: 

1. Determine ahead of time when you'll need to ask in a conversation with a prospect. Realize that at the beginning the asks are relatively easy: "I have an article I think you'll like, can I send you a copy?"

Then there's the follow-up ask, and the request for an appointment ask, and the proposal ask and ultimately the final close ask. 

2. Now actually script out these asks. Write then down and then practice them out loud until they feel easy and comfortable. Ask yourself if someone asked you in this way if you'd feel comfortable. Just keep practicing until you get over the uncomfortable hump and realize you will not die when you ask!

3. Ask yourself what's the worst possible thing that could happen if you asked in these various situations. Realistically, the worst thing that could happen is you'd be turned down. You'd get a no. That's about it. 

Now is that such a big deal? Could you survive that? Could you get up the next morning and go to work? Of course, you could. Nobody ever died of asking!

4. Find safe places to ask. Go to a networking event. Talk to a lot of people. If you get even a hint that someone might get value from your service, ask if they'd like your article. This is a pretty safe one, because people love to get free stuff. You almost always yet yeses. 

5. Next get some practice in making follow-up calls. Only call the people who showed the most interest. Remember, you are not asking for the sale, not even for a meeting yet, just a conversation to discover if there are mutual interests. 

Before long, you'll get more comfortable with asking. And you just continue in that vein. Become committed to being a "master of asking." Make it your hobby. Read about it in books on selling, get together with associates and practice your asking. 

This is how I developed my asking skills. And it's what I've taught my clients over the years. Just take it step-by-step and you'll find it easy, something you do naturally, without any pressure or manipulation. Not only that, you'll expect more yeses than noes and you'll get them!

By the way, if this helps with you dating, that's a bonus!

If you have comments on this article, please share on the blog by clicking on the Comments link below. 

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