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By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

Do You Believe These Alternative Marketing Facts?

We've heard a lot of so-called alternative facts recently from some in our government. Another name for an alternative fact is a lie – something that simply isn't true but is believed to be true. 

You don't need to go very far to find myriad alternative facts about marketing. Many believe them, but I want to prove to you that they're not true. 

Here are some of my favorites:

Marketing shouldn't be so hard (or it should be easy)

This is much like saying math shouldn't be hard or cooking, or milking a cow or doing push-ups. All of these tasks simply take the effort required to produce results. 

Marketing is an activity business owners do to attract clients to their business. It's something that they learn and implement. Different people experience certain parts of marketing as difficult and some experience other parts as easy.

The problem with this alternative fact about marketing is that it lets you off the hook and helps you justify not doing any marketing and then complaining about it. 

Marketing takes too much time

How much time is too much? Is a few hours a week too much? Perhaps when you believe this you think of all the time you've spent on marketing activities that were ineffective. 

In the early days of marketing my business I put a lot of time into learning how to market myself and implementing what I'd learned. Some of it was effective, some ineffective. 

But after a number of years of practicing marketing I got better and better at it. Think of learning marketing like learning music. That takes a lot of time too, but at the end of the path you're a musician. At the end of the marketing path you're a magnet for new clients. (And I believe marketing is a whole lot easier than learning music!)

Marketing is all about manipulation

Yes, a lot of the marketing you see out there is manipulative. It's not honest; it has no integrity; it presents alternative facts. But that doesn't mean you have to do that kind of marketing. 

Manipulative marketing doesn't work for independent professionals. What does work is authentic marketing education that provides valuable information so your prospective clients understand how you can help them. 

Authentic marketing is based on relationships, trust, clarity, and proof. It is the antithesis of alternative facts. It's a clear expression of the truth of what you offer your clients and the results they gain when they work with you. 

Marketing is an interruption

Many people have told me that they feel marketing is an unwelcome interruption of their prospective clients's time. This feeling comes from the mistaken belief that you are not good enough or not worthy. 

You meet someone who shows an interest in your services. If you think marketing is an interruption, you become passive, and wait for the prospect to make the first move and contact you. You might wait a very long time!

When you are confident about the value of your services, however, you never feel you're an interruption. You then take any interest in your services at face value and find a way to connect with prospects to explore if your services are a fit for them.

Marketing leads only to rejection

Now we're getting to the heart of why we cling to these alternative facts about marketing. If we don't market ourselves we get to feel comfortable and safe: No effort, no wasted time, no manipulation, no interruption, no rejection. 

The payoff of apparently staying safe overrides the possible results of implementing marketing activities. But we fail to notice that this so-called safety is based on alternative facts – things that are not even true. 

We must abandon alternative facts for sound reasoning and the search for what really works in marketing our professional services. In doing so, we'll discover new possibilities for connecting, communicating and having meaningful conversations that lead to great clients and a growing business. 

Just say no to alternative facts. 

In the same way we're saying no to the alternative facts promoted by some in our government, we need to say no to the alternative facts about marketing promoted by our fearful minds.

Cheers, Robert


By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

One of the most frequent comments I hear from my clients is: "If I could just get a meeting with a qualified prospect, I know I could turn them into a paying client."

Well, last week, I shared how to Reach Out and Touch Someone and get meetings with qualified prospects. So if you haven't read that, yet, make sure to do. 

And this week, even though many clients say turning a qualified prospect into a paying client is no big deal, I'm still going to share my six-step process with you. 

Because I know it is a big deal for many independent professionals; converting a higher percent of these prospects into clients can make a big difference to the bottom line. For instance, increasing your close rate from two out of five to three out of five means a 50% increase in new clients!

I've refined these steps over my 30-year career and they not only work, they also eliminate the need to use any kind of pressure or manipulation to get results. This is an authentic selling process.

Again, this process happens in a focused meeting (I sometimes call it a strategy session) that consists of several conversations, which ultimately lead to a new client agreeing to work with you.

Here is a step-by-step guide to how this system works.  

1. Conversation for Exploration

The heart of the selling conversation is exploring your prospective client's situation and challenges. 

You want to ask a *lot* of questions to really understand their:

Situation - What's happening now, what's working, details about how their business works or how their life works if this is a personal service.

Challenges – What's not working, why they are frustrated, what they have tried up to this point, and what they keep coming up against.

This is the longest part of the selling conversation – and requires about 75% of the time, in my experience. Your aim is to really understand why this prospect needs your services. It's like a diagnosis. Without it, how can you recommend a course of action?

Another part of this exploration conversation is to share some examples and stories related to the answers they give to your questions. I might say at some point:

"Janet, I want you to know that struggling with your marketing isn't unusual. Almost all independent professionals experience similar struggles. The good news is that it's something you can get much better at."

I do not attempt to pitch my services at any time during this conversation. That's a turnoff. But I do give the prospect a lot of assurance that they can succeed at their marketing. I give the prospect hope: 

"Charles, that difficulty you're having with your marketing message is just what I experienced. It took some time, but instead of worrying about the perfect words, I just got out there, met a lot of people and practiced my message until I found one that got the attention I wanted. You can do that as well to come up with a great message."

It sure helps if you've gone through the same challenges your prospect has. But if you haven't, you can share some client stories. Here's one I use: 

"Practically every client I've worked with has found writing to be a challenge. I'm particularly proud of one client who had written practically nothing for her business. But with some support, direction and tips she's become an excellent writer. In fact, I think she's better than me! Her writing is concise and pithy. Now when she reaches out with emails she gets response right away. The good news is that anyone can learn this."

By trying several examples and stories you get better and better at this, until you have a repertoire to draw on. 

Perhaps the most important aspects of the exploration conversation relate to your attitude, tone, interest and enthusiasm. I always have fun in these conversations and get excited about what is possible for clients if they improve their marketing. 

You can build a lot of trust in this conversation if you do it well. You've listened closely, gone deep enough to discover the most pressing challenges and issues and shown, through various examples, that you can help them succeed.  

2. Conversation for Possibility

Once you understand your prospect's situation and challenges, you want to talk about the future. What objectives do they want to attain? You can keep this simple:

"Janet, if we worked together, can you tell me the results you'd like to see?"

"Charles, if we ended up working in our Profit Program, what specifically do you want to achieve?"

You want to listen closely and really get what it is they want. And you need to be sure that this is something you can actually help them with. Then you want to feed this back *in their own words.*

"OK, you want to see an increase in your profits of 20% or more in the first year, correct?" 

This part of the conversation might not take too long, but you need to go deep enough so they see a new future for themselves. Ultimately, prospects "buy the future" from you. And if this future is not compelling enough, they won't buy it. 

3. Conversation for Clarity

Next, you present your solution (service or program) that will help them achieve their goals. Note, that if you sent (and they've read) some detailed information on your services, you don't need to tell a lot. This is what I usually say:

"OK, Janet, you've read over all the detailed information about my services that are designed to get you the results we've been talking about. Do you have any questions about those services?"

What I've noticed is that most have read the information on my services very completely. They mostly understand what I offer and they may have a few questions to help them be crystal clear about how my services can help them.  

Once I've answered their final questions, I usually say:

"Janet, if we were to work together, there are a few things you'd need to do to increase the chances of success." Then I name various requirements of working with me. "OK, if you can do those things, I'd be happy to work with you."

I'm not asking the client, at this point, if they want to work with me. I'm telling them that I want to work with them. But at no point am I really *persuading or pushing* my prospect to work with me. 

Now you're ready to move things forward.  

4. Conversation for Commitment

Now it's time to ask if they think your services are right for them. Here are a couple ways to say it:

"OK Charles, based on our conversation so far, do you think the Profit Program is right for you?"

"Janet, do you feel that my business coaching services would get you the results you're looking for?

It's really that simple. In a large percentage of cases, they will say yes. Closing doesn't need to be tricky or manipulative.

And then I'll, say, "Do you have any other questions?

If they don't know your fees yet, they'll usually ask, "What are the fees for your services or program?" And I'll answer in the next conversation. 

5. Conversation for Fees

Sometimes a person will not answer the above question about the service or program being right for them until they know your fees. This is what I say:

"OK, we'll talk about the fees the very next thing. But I just want to know, other than the fees, do you feel that this program is a good fit for you?" 

I want to know if there's a fit. If there isn't I won't even talk about the fees. We're done. But if they say it feels like a fit, then they've made a commitment at a certain level. And then it's easy to talk about fees. 

If they are not sure it's a fit, you can explore more about what they want and answer other questions they may have. 

I'll explain the fees in a very straightforward way: "The fee for this program is $XXXX in total which is $XXX per month. Can you make that work for your budget right now?"

I've already rewceived a yes that they want to work with me. Now I'm just confirming that they can afford it. This works really well.  

6. Conversation for Action

Now that the client has agreed to work with me, I'm on third base in Marketing Ball (If you are unfamiliar with Marketing Ball, get the Marketing Plan Workbook here for free). I just need to finalize things.

The final conversation gets them to home and ready to start. 

"OK, Janet and Charles, if you're ready to get started I'd like to put our first meeting on the calendar. In that first meeting we'll cover ABC and XYZ. And I'd like to send you a little preparation work before that meeting – some reading and a few exercises. And I'll also send you a shopping cart link so you can pay for your first month of the program. You can pay a day or two before that first meeting. Sound good?"

The sample conversations above are for offering a business-to-business service, usually for a small business. It also works for offering individual or personal services such as life coaching or nutrition counseling.

You can also use the same process when selling to a larger business, but because their businesses are more complex, the conversations tend to be longer and may span several meetings. 

I hope that breaking all these steps of the selling conversation into these six different conversations have helped to make the process easier. If you have any questions, please respond with the comments in the form below. 

Cheers, Robert

P.S. Would you be interested in having a conversation like this with me regarding creating more clients? Right now, I have two spaces open. Just go here:

Read the page and then fill out the questionnaire at the bottom if you'd like to talk to me and explore your marketing situation. 


By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

Remember the old television ads for AT&T – "Reach and and touch someone." Well, the idea of reaching out is important, but it takes more than that if you want something to happen. No, your a goal is a meeting and, ultimately, a new client. 

Some of the most frequent questions I hear are, "But what exactly do I say when I reach out?" and "What works to get the attention of a prospective client?" or "Wont they feel I'm interrupting them?" and "How do I get that appointment?"

Here's how I explain it: 

Marketing is communication and communication is a series of conversations. And direct outreach uses several different types of conversations. In all, there are nine conversations in this process.  

In reality, there are two primary conversations – a short one when reaching out and connecting, and a long one when meeting to explore working together. I break the short phone conversation into three distinct conversations and the long meeting into six conversations. 

If you follow this approach, you'll be surprised at how effective and easy it is and the welcome reception you'll get. 

Each conversation has a purpose and a structure. 

The scenarios for these direct outreach calls are varied. They might include a follow-up from an event you both attended or from a presentation you gave. They include calls to prospective clients who were referred to you and past clients you think might be ideal for a new service you're offering. Remember, these are not *cold calls.*

In many cases, direct outreach includes a short email to introduce yourself and then a follow-up call. But, depending on the situation, it's fine to just pick up the phone and call. I'll only send an email if I can't reach them by phone. 

Part I Conversation: Attention - Interest & Qualification

1. Conversation for Attention

The first thing you say must be about the person you're talking to – not about you. So it helps to know something about the person you're calling, and mention that. The easiest way is to look at their website before you call. 

"Hi Janet, This is Tom Bennet, our mutual friend Julian told me about your exciting new business in transforming nursing homes. I just took a look at your new website."

"Hi Charles, it was great to have you on my intro webinar yesterday on how to increase profitability. I really appreciated your participation."

How can you resist an opening like that? You can't! You've now shown your interest in them and in turn, they'll be open to listening to what you have to say. Next you want to generate some interest in what you're offering. 

2. Conversation for Interest

The next thing you'll say is your core marketing message about who your clients are and their problems or aspirations. Which one you use depends on your business. 

"Julian might have mentioned to you that I've helped people from many service businesses like yours who are unsure how to get the word out about what you do."

"As I said on the webinar, Charles, I've helped more than a thousand businesses like yours increase their profitability."

I usually follow this with: "Is this a good time to talk for just a minute?"

OK, now they have a clear idea of who you work with and how you can help. Next you want to see if you're on the same page by qualifying them.  

3. Conversation for Qualification

You want to find out if you can help this person or not. You're not focused on whether they're interested in your services or can afford you yet. In fact, you don't even mention your services. 

"Janet, could I ask you just a few questions about your business (or situation) to understand what you're trying to accomplish?"

"Charles, you mentioned a few things about your business on the webinar. Can you tell me a little more about your business?"

When I start my direct outreach with these three conversations, I've found that people are happy to talk with me. In the qualification conversation, you might ask a few basic questions to see if they would be a good client for you. Questions such as:

Can you tell me a little about how your business works?

What's the challenge you're facing right now?

What kind of outcomes do you want to see?

Are you open to talking about some ways I might help you?

This qualification conversation might last from five to ten minutes by phone. And then you want to suggest a more in-depth meeting:

"Janet, from what you've told me, there's a good chance I could help you. What I usually do at this point is set up a more in-depth complimentary meeting – about an hour or so – to learn more about your situation, goals and challenge and then explain how I can help you. Shall we set up a time to meet?"

I can't recall a time that someone was not willing to take this next step if I followed this process closely. 

One thing I *always* make sure to do is send some detailed information on my services *before* I have this next meeting. I want them to know that I understand them, the kind of results they can expect and the details of how I work with my clients.

A few things to take note of in this first outreach conversation: 

1. Script out the three different conversations to fit your situation. See how simple they are. You don't need to make this complicated. 

2. Practice these conversations out loud until you can make them natural. This is key. If you were going to be in a play, you'd memorize your lines and practice wouldn't you? How is this any different? It's not! 

3. Sometimes you may send an email before you call. In that case, use conversations one and two just as I've written them above and then close with something like:

"If this interests you, I'd love to chat for a few minutes and learn more about your current situation, goals and challenges. I'll give you a call, or just let me know if you'd like to speak."

I'm going to continue this next week with the Part II Conversation: Exploration - Possibility - Clarity - Commitment - Fees & Action

Cheers, Robert


By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

There are a lot of ways to market your professional services and more of them are being promoted every day. 

Unfortunately, many of them are overly complex, take a huge amount of time and require a lot of technical expertise.

When I work with my own clients, I'm interested in them getting results as fast as possible without too many complex steps. 

I also emphasize that the clients who work with them are looking for a more personal connection with someone they can trust. This really fits for Independent Professional services and programs. 

And the best way to accomplish this is through what I call "Direct Outreach." 

Direct Outreach means exactly that – reaching out to prospective clients through personalized emails and phone calls (as opposed to dozens of impersonal autoresponder messages).

However, I'm not talking about cold calls. I'm referring to keep-in-touch contacts, introduction calls and other types of warm calls. 

Keep-in-Touch Contacts

Do you have people you know in business whom you've worked with in the past? Perhaps they attended a workshop, did some coaching or consulting with you, but haven't been in touch with you for awhile? 

One of my current client is having great success with this. She's sending very personalized emails to rekindle relationships with these people. When she sends these emails she gets an almost immediate and positive response. 

She had recently redesigned her website and is offering a new packaging of her services, so it was a good time for her to reach out. Now she's setting up  several phone meetings and in-person appointments to explore the possibilities. 

I've noticed that very few independent professionals do this kind of outreach, let alone do it well or consistently. All you need is a friendly, upbeat email and an invitation to connect. 

Introduction Calls

When I moved my business from my home to the Financial District in San Francisco in the early 90's, I joined the chamber of commerce and then used the chamber's business directory to identify prospective clients. 

I sent a one-page letter mentioning that I was also chamber member and discussed how I helped businesses like theirs improve their marketing. Then I followed up by phone to introduce myself. 

On the call I reiterated how I helped my clients and asked them about their business and marketing. Nobody hung up on me and I had a lot of great conversations. As we wound down I suggested a face-to-face meeting and most people said yes (somewhat to my surprise)! 

Even better, most of those meetings resulted in my securing a new client. I remember how one of these clients mentioned how naturally and spontaneously this had happened. Nobody had ever called her like this before!

What made this approach work? A few things. One was the affiliation with the chamber of commerce. Another was that I was calling to introduce myself and create a connection, not to make a sale. By being interested in them and really listening, they wanted to explore further. 

Other Warm Calls

You can make the same kinds of calls (usually preceded by an email) to people who are referred to you, to those attending a talk you gave and people you meet at a networking meeting, business event or conference. 

One of my current clients lives in Upstate New York and has had great success in calling SHRM (Society of Human Resource Managers) chapters in several area cities. He's booked talks in most of these chapters, gets leads from those who attend, and his follow-up with them has resulted in several very good clients.

When I'm developing a direct outreach strategy with clients we look at all the current factors in their business and design the best approach for them. What you do depends on your list, the services you offer, and what you feel most comfortable doing. It's not all that hard, but it does require some planning and focus.  

Why many people avoid this marketing approach

Many people have shared the following worries with me: "If I reach out like this I'll sound like I'm begging; I might get rejected; I don't know what to say," and, "Nobody will be interested anyway."

It's both funny and tragic how our thinking, based on past circumstances (and blown out of proportion), can hijack what we really want. So many have failed in their businesses because of the resistance to simply reaching out. 

A few tips to make this work

1. Make a list of all the things you need to do in a direct outreach campaign: 

- Assemble a list 

- Develop a phone script

- Send your emails 

- Do follow-up calls until you get a conversation

- Don't sell on the call. Ask some key questions and listen closely 

- Set up meetings with those who show the most interest

- Conduct your "selling conversations" and get commitments to work with you 

Put all of these into a weekly chart and check off the outreach activities you do each day. This will keep you honest with yourself and on track. 

2. Practice your conversations. Once you've fine-tuned your emails, it gets pretty simple. But being comfortable making the actual outreach calls can feel scary and intimidating. The only solution is to practice out loud, preferably into a mirror. Nothing works better to get past your awkwardness and start to feel natural and authentic on the phone.

3. Track your activity. A few outreach calls here and there won't get the job done. You need to make several outreach calls every single week. Be consistent. 

4. Find someone to keep your feet to the fire. When you make a promise and are accountable to someone else you procrastinate less and finally get into enough of a routine that the task becomes easier. Then it becomes more and more effective and you're motivated to make it a long-term habit. 

If you're doing a lot of other marketing activities, such as content marketing and social media (which can be good long-term strategies), but aren't getting short term results, I highly recommend you give direct outreach an honest try. 

Cheers, Robert


By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

Many people wonder why marketing themselves is such a struggle. They experience marketing as hard and unpleasant. Is that simply the nature of self-marketing? Or can it be easier and more fun?

I've said many times that the essence of marketing is communication – the simple but powerful act of sharing ideas and possibilities with others. Whether you're writing articles, emails or web copy or talking to people in presentations or one-on-ones, there's one thing that is always true:

Effective marketing communication happens in the NOW.

That may seem obvious, but look to see where your thoughts and attention are when communicating. Most of us are everywhere else but in the NOW. 

Instead, we are in the past or in the future. 

We're in the past when we're thinking about how hard it is to write or communicate effectively. All our thoughts and feelings of not being good enough – or not being as good as others – tends to emerge. We may feel inadequate, believe we're not good communicators, or think we are not appreciated or accepted. 

We're in the future when we're thinking ahead of ourselves and imagining the results of our communication before we've even started. We may think we'll be misunderstood, rejected, or ridiculed. But no matter what we're thinking about, were are not in the NOW. 

When we are in the past or future we lose access to our natural intelligence and abilities. The dream-like images and thoughts of past and future floating about in our minds are like static, obscuring clear thinking and present-moment awareness. 

There is no flow; there is only a sense of resistance.

When you are in the NOW, things are different, very different.

My experience of communicating (writing and speaking) in the now is that I simply let the words come without effort. I don't judge whether they are right or wrong, let alone perfect. When writing, I know I can always go back and edit and fine-tune later. When speaking, I know I can just talk like I do when having a conversation with a friend. 

When I'm in the NOW, my marketing voice is authentic, clear and simple. 

Now this doesn't mean I don't prepare or think ahead about what I'm going to say. But I don't force that preparation. The only way to prepare is in the NOW as well. Before starting to write this I was reading in bed. I got up, and the idea for this article popped into my head. So I just let the ideas run and see where they took me. 

Half an hour later I was at my keyboard and finished the first draft an hour later. 

If communicating in the NOW is so effective and powerful, why are we so bad at it? Why do we seem to be so stuck in the past or the future? It's pretty obvious, isn't it? It's the conditioning of past experiences that have become habitual. This kind of thinking has worn a groove in the mind that's hard to escape. 

The only way to market ourselves in the NOW is by practicing being in the NOW. Here's a very simple but powerful exercise that can get you there.

First of all, don't try to be in the now all the time. It's impossible. Relax, you can do this a few seconds or a minute at a time throughout the day. Like exercise, the results tend to be accumulative.

1. Right now (as you're reading this) notice that you are already in the NOW. There is no past and future, only the present moment. You are reading this in the present moment and you are thinking in the present moment.

Just let this sink in slowly. There's nothing to figure out. You are in the present moment right now.  

2. Now notice what you are seeing, hearing and sensing right in this moment. Your computer screen, your desk, the window and the chair you're sitting on are all here right now. The background sounds are also all here right now. And the sensation of your back against the chair, your feet on the floor and any other body sensations are here and now. 

Let yourself be simply aware of what is happening right NOW. 

3. Don't' try to get anywhere or achieve any kind of state. In the now, notice the state you are in. You may be feeling anxious or happy, frustrated or calm. And all of these are noticed in the NOW.

Don't try to change anything or get anywhere. This is IT, right NOW! 

You might call this simple exercise "Aware-Here-Now." You don't even need to schedule a time to do this. You can just let it happen.  

When you notice that you are not in the now, when your mind is racing, or you're struggling, if you're judging or anything else that puts you in the past or future, stop for just a moment and practice Aware-Here-Now. Again, just for a few seconds or a minute.

Will this improve your marketing? Well, improved marketing comes from understanding certain principles and practicing them over time, just like anything else. But if you get more adept at being in the NOW, all of that becomes much easier. You'll get stuck less often; you'll enjoy marketing more. 

Imagine sitting down to write something and it's not so agonizing anymore because you are able to be NOW in the moment. Imagine other marketing activities that you usually resist or avoid and, instead, you jump in with a sense of adventure and openness, simply because you're not caught in past fears and future uncertainties. 

Now, before you go on to do anything else today, just take a moment to be Aware-Here-Now.

Cheers, Robert 


By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

As of today, I'm starting something new called "The Action Plan Marketing Community."

It's a way to provide my More Clients Subscribers with some useful resources and an opportunity to engage more with the conversation about attracting clients. 

You can access everything on this page:

The Action Plan Marketing Community. (see below)

Why am I doing this?

I've been sending out my eZine, More Clients since 1997. That's twenty years and hundreds and hundreds of articles about marketing for independent professionals.

The eZine has worked very well for me. For the past 20 years, it's helped me grow my e-list and in addition to sharing valuable ideas, I've successfully promoted various marketing products, programs and services.

What is missing for me is conversation and interaction 

The two key parts of the APM Community are the Facebook Forum where you can post questions, ask for feedback and discuss various approaches to marketing more effectively.

And the other part is the monthly Live Video Session where you can join me and several others via Zoom Video and explore ideas about the endless number of ways you can attract more clients. 

I've also included some samples from the More Clients Club

One of the most appreciated parts of the Club are the Expert Interviews. I've include three of the very best ones for you to explore. Timeless ideas that can impact your marketing effectiveness immediately. 

Plus a couple chapters from my Marketing Ball Book. Right now, the full book is only available to Club Members, but you'll get a lot out of these first two chapters on the game of marketing and marketing messages. It's stuff you can use every day in your business. 

Finally, a discount on the first month of Club Membership

The Club, now starting its 9th year, contains online courses, tutorials, expert interviews and over 100 hours of audio with interactive marketing coaching and instruction.

If you've never been a Club member, and even if you have been in the past, you can check out the Club for the first month for just $9 by using the coupon code on the APM Community page. 

That's all for today. Just go to the Action Plan Marketing Community and take advantage of these resources. This page will be posted indefinitely, so once you visit, make sure to bookmark it. 

Cheers, Robert 

P.S. Why no links to the Community Page on the Blog? Because you need to be a Community Member to access it. If you're already a subscriber, just check your email, and it you're not, simply sign up for the Community on this page and get immediate access to these resources. 


By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

Here we are on the cusp of a New Year and a new presidency.

Many people are nervous about both and many are also very excited about both. Will the rich get richer and the poor get poorer or are we at the dawn of a new age of prosperity? 

Frankly, I have no idea and neither does anyone else. We all have a lot of facts, a huge amount of speculation and more hopes and fears than anyone can remember. 

So I'm not going to comment on what "should" be. It will play out like everything ultimately does and we'll discover day-by-day as the drama unfolds. 

I can't even know how I'm going to react to events in the new year. I'll certainly have my opinions like everyone else, but that doesn't change anything, does it? Will I be horrified, intolerant, angry, smug, exhilarated or simply entertained?

I do know I'll be concerned about my family and about my business and financial situation. But I need to remember that there's ultimately no such thing as security. Remember the crash of 2008?

I do know the world will keep turning and business will continue as well. I know that there are hundreds of thousands of independent professionals who need to continue to attract more clients and make a difference and I know many of them will need help with that. 

I also know that when change happens, there are huge opportunities. This is not a time to sit back and do nothing, be fatalistic or complain about circumstances that will likely be disruptive (change is always disruptive).

No, this time is an opportunity to tap into our creativity and resourcefulness like never before. Our clients will likely be looking for new insights, tools and resources to give them an advantage and stay competitive.

I believe, more than ever, that independent professionals will seek communities of support. When disruptive change happens, we all need support, ideas, resources and encouragement to keep us on track and on our toes. We need to be tuned into these changes and take decisive action when required of us. 

Even if we don't know what the new year will bring, we still need to make plans for what services we want to deliver. We need to learn what our clients are looking for and find ways to give it to them. We need to prepare for change, not let us take it by surprise. 

But no matter what the new year may bring, I wish you a wonderful holiday season, and a wealth of growth and transformation. 

Cheers, Robert

P.S. I'll be on vacation between Christmas and New Year's, so the next More Clients will be on Tuesday, January 10th.


By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

Here's a scenario I imagined today...

It's twenty years from now, and I'm in my mid 80's. My granddaughter, Colette, now 24, is considering starting her own consulting practice. 

That might be rather young to become an independent professional, you'd think, but she's brilliant, a quick learner and bilingual. She graduated from university with honors and excelled in the field of cross cultural communication. 

Before she goes on to graduate school, she wants to spend some time in the real world, working with companies to test her thesis on "Cross Cultural Communication in a Growingly Diverse Workforce."

She takes me out to lunch on my 85th birthday and asks me the following question: "I know what I want to offer to companies, but I need to know more how to market to these companies. Since you're one of the world experts on this topic I thought you'd have some good advice. Can you help me?" 

I smiled broadly, wondering how I can condense the most important learnings about marketing I've absorbed over the past fifty years.

This is what I tell her: 

1. It's a lot easier, more effective and fun if you practice marketing your services as if you're playing a game.

A game is where you make one thing more important than any other thing and put your focus solely on that. The game is to simply discover how to get that one thing (new clients) with the least amount of time and effort. 

You don't think of getting what you want as a problem, a dire predicament or tiresome slog. You think of it as a challenging exploration. You try things, test things, add things and subtract things until you find strategies and tactics that work consistently. 

By the way, you don't have to invent everything you do to reach your goal. It isn't cheating to research, learn from others and get feedback. In fact, if you don't do these things, you severely limit yourself. One of my first questions in the game is, "Who else has done this successfully?"

2. Playing a game successfully takes careful study, planning, practice and execution. 

I've given clients, in similar situations, very detailed information for implementing a marketing strategy. Some succeed wildly; others barely got started. What do the successful ones do?

Those who succeed study the strategy closely and often examine additional information. Then they spend some time planning exactly how and when they will do it. They practice the strategy (a marketing message, phone call or presentation) until they feel comfortable with it. Finally, they roll it out and fine tune the strategy until it gets consistent results. 

Sound complicated? Well, it can be a fair amount of work, but this is what all successful professionals do. They don't wing it. They work at getting very good at it.

3. The essence of the marketing game is to build trust with prospective clients until they feel comfortable working with you. 

What few people realize is that, in many cases, trust can be established almost immediately. You can achieve this with: An authentic connection, relevant information, a good testimonial, or a sample of what you can do.

When trust is established, your goal is to increase trust by asking a prospective client to take the next step towards working with you. You might ask for a conversation, to attend a presentation (talk, webinar, etc), or a watch a video. But you must ask without manipulation or coercion. 

Ultimately, trust is built when you show sincere interest in someone. If you don't care about people and just want to sell them your services, they will meet your efforts with indifference or resistance.

4. Qualities such as perseverance, patience, listening, empathy and acceptance dramatically increase your chance of succeeding at the game. 

When I'm speaking to a prospective client, I'm not worried if they don't understand principles one through three yet; those can all be learned. But without these key qualities, people will find it very hard to become proficient at marketing.  

Those who don't persevere, give up too easily. Those who are impatient get frustrated, even angry. Those who don't listen will not learn what needs to be learned. Those who have little empathy will find it hard to build trust. And those who find it hard to accept things as they are will become complainers and victims.

Building these qualities takes the maturity that experience brings. Of course, few people are masters of these qualities. But they must be committed to practicing them. If they don't, success at marketing is going to be extraordinarily difficult.

I go through these points slowly and carefully with Colette as she listens with rapt attention, taking notes.

When I'm done, she says, "Well, Umja," (her pet name for me) that is a lot to learn and absorb. I hope I can remember it all."

I reply: "Not a problem, sweet one. Since you told me you wanted to talk to me about this over lunch, I went back to an article I wrote 20 years ago and printed it out for you."

I reach into my bag and handed this article to her. And I also give her a copy of my book, Marketing Ball, that I had published almost 30 years ago. 

"What's in this book is as relevant today as it was when I wrote it. Read it carefully and follow what it says, and I have no doubt you'll attract as many clients as you want."

Cheers, Robert

Here's a quick graphic of today's ezine/blog from Paula Hansen of Chart Magic. Check out her website and services


By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

Many years ago I remember applying to the Art Academy in San Francisco. I wanted to take some classes and improve my design skills. 

I was already designing business identities, brochures and fliers. I thought I was pretty good at it. My clients even paid me well. 

But the Art Academy rejected my application. It made me furious and resentful; every time I thought of the incident I fumed. 

Many things that seem like small things are actually big things. And one of those small/big things is…


Look, I admit it. I wanted approval. I wanted to belong, be admired, be noticed and accepted.

And I didn't just want it, I wanted it more than anything else. Disapproval meant I had been cast out, shunned, ridiculed and shamed. 

When the Art Academy rejected me, I felt awful. 

It hurt. It stung. 

And so whenever I faced the possibility of disapproval, or any kind of rejection, I tended to shy away. "Better to not get what I want than to get rejected and hurt," I thought.

There's nothing wrong with wanting something. It's the very first impulse in life, in fact – to want milk, to satisfy hunger. 

And wants expand from there. We want more things, we want to play, do exciting things and spend time with certain people. 

We most certainly didn't want the word, 'no.' We wanted an endless stream of 'yeses' to meet our every desire. And when we didn't get a yes, we threw a snit fit. 

But sometimes those snit fits backfired and we were punished. Our parents and teachers told us how to behave and how not to be selfish. Always wanting things, asking for things, was educated out of us.

But if we pressed our case, we sometimes got our way or always got our way. Perhaps we turned into an egotistical, narcissist bully. We all know what that looks like. 

But most of us learned how not to rock the boat and ask for too much. 

We learned how to play it safe and get what we wanted on the sly. We learned how to be creative and independent – to get some of the things we wanted without having a snit fit. 

So we started our own business and became excited that we could do what we wanted and exercise our independence. 

And then we discovered something unsettling. 

We learned that it was uncomfortable to ask for what we wanted from others. Very uncomfortable. 

It seemed difficult, sometimes impossible, to ask for meetings, for money, for commitment. And to follow up and ask a client to work with us? Forget about it. 

We wanted acceptance and approval. 

We experienced fear instead. Fear of making a mistake, of doing it wrong, of not being perfect and making a fool of ourselves. We didn't want rejection or disapproval; we wanted success.

But fear kept coming up, over and over and over. 

People don't fail because of the economy or a bad business plan or poor marketing skills. We can adapt to challenges, bounce back and improve our skills. 

No, most people fail because of fear. 

There are endless things we could have done. We could have asked, risked, said powerful things and taken bold action. But we didn't do them. Instead, our minds conjured imaginary consequences that were bigger than the possible rewards. 

What is the worst that could happen if you were rejected?

What is the worst that could happen if your article or presentation or website wasn't perfect?

What is the worst that could happen it you asked for an appointment?

What is the worst that could happen if you told a prospective client you wanted to work with them?

The most likely worst scenario for all these is that nothing would happen. 

That's about the worst. I promise you that nobody would send a hit man to take you out!

When the Art Academy rejected me, I went on to do other things. A few years later I was designing web sites. 

When prospective clients didn't work with me, I found other ways to attract clients. 

When someone couldn't afford to pay me, I found clients who could afford my services. 

And what enabled me to do all those things, despite the rejection?

It wasn't just one thing. It was a few things. 

I didn't have an alternative. I had to be successful in my own business or I'd have to work for someone else. That was not an option for me. 

I loved what I did, working with my clients and making a difference. I loved being independent and creative. 

I spent a lot of time studying how to get past rejection, how not to take it personally, how to let go and move on. I learned to live from reality, not from a negative fantasy.

It actually took me quite a while to get past the fear of rejection and disapproval. I struggled with it a lot.

But ultimately I became failure-proof. I now see every so-called failure as just another learning experience. 

And I believe this is something anyone can do if they want to succeed in their business and marketing.

It's something YOU can do. 

Cheers, Robert

I work with independent professionals to find their own authentic marketing voice and to attract more clients. Find out more here.


By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

I've been working with my client, Sarah Taylor, for a few months on her marketing. I don't usually mention the names of my clients, but I am today because I'll be pointing you to her website. 

Sarah works with companies to help them accommodate employees who are on the autism spectrum. 

Companies that hire people with autism are required to step up and provide assistance because autism is legally considered a disability. Common issues are behavior and communication styles that can make work very challenging. 

Sarah has worked very hard to set up her business, develop a marketing message, a web site and a marketing plan. She's smart, talented, and has worked in the field of autism for more than 20 years. 

But then she started hitting brick wall after brick wall. 

The first client she booked, cancelled the contract a few weeks before it was to start. A company that was having major communication issues with an autistic employee was not willing to do anything (except get very upset at him), yet failed to hire Sarah.

You might say that Sarah was having "success challenges" and in our meetings she was feeling very discouraged. After all, she had done all the right things, but people were not responding and the future of her business started to look bleak. 

In our meeting a couple weeks ago we had a different kind of conversation. 

I told her that doing more of what she was doing would not get her where she wanted to go. I explained that she needed to "shift success paradigms."  

The old success paradigm of working hard, being professional, and persisting until you see success can be useful.

But it's also terribly flawed. 

In the early days of my business, when I knew virtually nothing about business and marketing, I absorbed a lot of "success teachings" such as Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie, Brian Tracey and Anthony Robbins. I read lots of books and listened to tapes. 

The problem with this whole approach is that it's very mechanistic. If you do ABC actions, the approach says, you'll get XYZ results. But can often feel like an uphill push. 

And every time you don't get a client or fail to make enough money, you simply feel like crap and any self-worth you had goes right down the drain. 

What good is a success philosophy that always make you feel like you're failing? It's no wonder that the great majority of self-employed people give up before seeing any substantial success. 

So I told Sarah that she needed to shift her success paradigm from solely: "Work hard – Win/Lose" to, "Work – Serve/Contribute."

This is a much saner model of success. Your self-worth is not so tightly tied to personally winning or losing, but instead is based on making a difference to others. It is "other focused" instead of "self focused."

But does this really work? It seems that in all those success books many miss a very important element: Service.

In the famous book, Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill (published in 1937 and still in print), the word service is used 150 times, almost as many as success at 161. And the word plan trumps them both with 240 mentions. 

You might sum up this success paradigm as:

"Plan for success by serving others."

That's what Hill talks about throughout his book, but I had missed that essential message years ago. It took me many more years to understand and apply it with great results.

In our meeting two weeks after this conversation, Sarah's whole attitude and demeanor has shifted dramatically. The reminder that embracing the paradigm of service had her look at her business in a completely new way. 

She started to see that she could offer service through every conversation, every idea she shared and everything she wrote. And she was getting out there and feeling excited about her business again. 

I told her she could also use the same paradigm when approaching new prospective clients. It didn't have to be about winning or losing them, but a matter of discovering ways she could serve them.

Look at your current paradigm of marketing and doing business. Could it use an upgrade?

Please check out Sarah's website here:

Cheers, Robert

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Robert Middleton, the owner of Action Plan Marketing, has for 30 years, been helping Self-Employed Professionals attract more of their ideal clients.  He offers the online membership site, The More Clients Club, and individual coaching and consulting through his Marketing Action Coaching. If this is your first visit to the More Clients blog, make sure to get a copy of the Marketing Plan Workbook and join the Marketing Club Forum for free.