Latest Blog Comments

By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing



A past client of mine once mentioned that she knew of a store that needed some marketing help. 
That captured my interest so I asked her about the store, the owner, and the marketing issues they were experiencing, but she had no more information. 
“All I can tell you is that I’m a customer and I know they need help,” she told me. “I was talking to the owner a few days ago about the struggles she was having in attracting enough business. So you should call her.” 
I asked if I could use her name. But she declined, saying she didn’t want the owner to know she’d been saying the store was having troubles. 
Not much to go on, right? But since I was pretty new in my business and I needed clients, I gave it a shot anyway. 
This is what I told the store owner on the phone: 
“Hi, my name is Robert Middleton, the owner of Action Plan Marketing. I was talking to one of my clients the other day and she told me about your store. She got the sense that you might need a little help in growing your business.”
What surprised me was that the store owner was very receptive and booked an appointment with me immediately. 
What struck me was that the only thing distinguishing this call from a cold call was that I mentioned my client had asked me to call her. That was enough to get her attention and interest and not treat me like a stranger. 
This led to trying out all kinds of things to connect with new prospective clients. One of my most successful ventures was calling San Francisco Chamber of Commerce members. All I said, was, “I’m also a member of the SF Chamber and I was wondering if marketing and attracting more clients is an issue for you right now?”
Every single person I called gave me a warm reception and invited me to come and speak to them. Many became some of the best clients I had had up to that point. 
The lesson? Affiliations and connections, no matter how weak, count for a lot more than you’d expect. In fact, they make all the difference. 
This is why I rarely suggest making cold calls. Instead, find connections and make warm calls. 
So, if you have a connection, use it. In fact, make that the foundation of your marketing. But then you need to have successful conversations with these contacts if you hope to turn them into paying client. 
These five tips will help you make this kind conversation more successful.
1. Make a list of anyone and everyone you know in business and socially. A long list. These are your connections. Of course, some are better than others, but you never know who might become a new client, be a repeat client or lead you to a client. 
Then write down your connection’s name, what your connection is, and how you might approach this person. For example:
Jon Bloor   
He just attended a talk I gave and indicated an interest in my services. I sent him an article a few days ago. Now I’ll call him to determine his interest and see if he has a real need.  
Frances McNulty
She’s a past client with whom I did some great work a few years ago but we’ve lost touch. I’ll give her a call to let her know what I’ve been up to and then set up a more in-depth meeting. 
When you make a simple plan like this, the work is half done. You know who to connect with and what to talk about. Now just pick up the phone. (You can also send an email, followed by a call, as that’s usually an easier way to reach someone.) 
2. Practice your calls out loud. This is an absolute must. Can you imagine being hired as an actor, reading the script a few times and then going on stage with no rehearsals? Absurd, right? Yet thousands of people do this every day when it comes to making contacts. 
Professionals practice. They master the spoken word and make every single word count. They actually write out a script – exactly what they plan to say and practice it out loud several times. 
Early in my business I remember making a call to a potential client without practicing. It was a disaster. I was humbled. I started making practice a central part of my outreach.
3. Listen more than you talk. Everybody thinks they’re a good listener. In my experience, listening is the marketing secret that everyone knows but few practice. A good listener is a rarity who understands they need to listen even more. 
When making a call to a connection, use your script to get attention and interest. And if that interest is there, start to ask questions. But interest is not enough. The question is, do they have a need, a problem or situation that they’re motivated to change? 
You’ll only know if you ask very focused questions and spend a lot of time listening. 
4. Know when to ask for a meeting. This is not a social conversation, but a business conversation. That doesn’t mean it isn’t friendly and upbeat, but there’s an intention for every call. 
It’s rare to make a sale on a first call like this. So, your intention is to use the first conversation to get you to a selling conversation or meeting.  
To get meetings, use your script, listen very closely for needs, and suggest a more in-depth meeting only when you are confident you can help them, and when the contact’s level of interest is at its peak. 
You know this when they start to ask you questions about how you work, the benefits and outcomes of your work, and what your services cost. This will take a longer conversation, so make a suggestion:
“Janet, based on our conversation today, I think there’s a good chance I can help you. But this is going to take a longer conversation. What I offer is a meeting (often called a Strategy Session) from 60 to 90 minutes to explore your situation and goals in more depth and then explain how I might help you. How does that sound?”
To most contacts this sounds great. No pressure, and they are happy that someone really wants to listen instead of selling. 
5. Relax. Once you understand the structure of an initial call to a contact, have created a script and practiced it, written out your questions and practiced them, scripted your close and practiced it, your confidence will soar. 
Again, practice builds confidence. Nothing else even comes close. 
Lack of confidence makes you nervous and reluctant to make calls in the first place. But when you know what to say and have practiced the conversation thoroughly, then you can relax and have fun on the call. 
You can now make a real connection and build a relationship. And your contact will hear that in your voice, which makes them more comfortable and relaxed as well. 
Taking all of these steps will enable you to make the most out of your connections. Good connections are gold; they open the door for you. But if you don’t master the conversation, those connections will lead you nowhere. 
Cheers, Robert 
P.S. This article is one of a series about direct outreach. The other recent articles in my blog (see below) cover various aspects of the outreach process, including details of exactly what to say on your calls. 

By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

When I started marketing my business many, many years ago , I remember a response I got to a follow-up call I made: 

"Robert, I have no idea what you're offering, what it can do for me or why I should talk to you. When you're clearer, you're welcome to call me back!"

This kind of reply can put you off making follow-up calls or doing direct outreach marketing forever. But I didn't give up. Instead I learned how to master this sometimes tricky process. I got really good at it and discovered approaches I've been using and teaching for years.  

You've now read my four recent articles on this topic and you have the hang of it. If you haven't read them yet here are the links:

8 Steps to Creating New Clients

A Marketing Strategy That Works

Reach Out and Touch Someone

The Simple, Consistent Ways to Get More Appointments

In these articles I talked about how to create an outreach plan, what words to use in your emails and calls, and how to implement your plan one day at a time. 

But you're still resisting. You know all you need to do is one outreach minimum per day to get things moving. And you're aware that these are not cold calls, but making connections with past clients, people you're met at networking or through a speaking engagement, etc. 

Here are five things that will help you get into action.  

1. Be clear on your purpose

When you're reaching out to a prospective client, it helps if you are clear on your purpose. It's not to manipulate someone to do business with you, is it? No, it's simply to discover if what you have to offer can be of benefit to your prospect. 

Your purpose is to find a fit and to start or continue a business relationship. When you think of it this way, it takes away the pressure to make a sale. When you're clear on your service it will come across in your voice. You'll sound sincere, caring and interested. 

2. Be honest

You don't want to trick someone into making an appointment with you or be mysterious about your intentions. That only annoys people. It's OK to be direct and straightforward. When I follow up with someone who's attended a talk I say, "I hope you got some valuable tips for your marketing. I'd like to speak with you about how I can assist you in growing your business. Do you have a few minutes to talk?"

There is no mystery, no hidden agenda, no promises I can't keep. It's just a normal conversation between two human beings. After you've done a lot of outreach like this, it actually becomes fun. 

3. Be authentic

You Don't Have to Rehearse to be Yourself, is the title of a book by Steward Emery. As funny as it may seem, many people feel that's exactly what they need to do. We work hard at "making a strong impression" or "dazzling with our brilliance." 

Give me a break. That's just too much work. Of course, you should be prepared to ask questions of your prospect, explain the benefits and details of your services, and have good answers to the questions a prospect asks you. But you can do that naturally, normally without any pretense or effort. 

4. Make the game fun

Vince Lombardi, the football coach for the Green Bay Packers was famous for saying "Winning isn't everything, it's the ONLY thing!" If you play marketing like that, you might end up winning a lot and be very successful. But I doubt you'll be very happy. 

I make it a game to create strategies, reach out to people, communicate effectively, set up conversations and then convert prospects into clients. I love that process. It's fun and it's easy to do as well. Get good at this process and play the game. But don't make it life and death. Instead, make it fun. 

5. Don't listen to your mind

Your mind is a wonderful tool. You use it every day to get the things you want. And intention followed by purposeful action, is a beautiful thing to behold. But, strangely, we also use our minds to keep us from getting what we want. This is the main reason we avoid direct outreach. 

We make up stories about how we might get rejected, sound stupid, do it wrong, or fail completely. Then, we believe those stories and act accordingly. As a result, we avoid talking the necessary actions to achieve the success we want. 

Here's a simple recommendation: Start ignoring those kind of thoughts. Just don't pay any more attention to them. They are lying to you. Their intent is to keep you safe and comfortable. But they are wrong in almost all cases. You are perfectly capable of following and succeeding with my direct outreach approaches. 

Don't even try to process these thoughts or fix them or change them. Simply be aware of them and then thank them for sharing and just get on with it, already!

I hope you've found this article useful. Learning and mastering direct outreach marketing methods can help you attract many more clients – the clients you've always wanted to work with. Go for it!

Cheers, Robert 


By Robert Middleton – ActionPlan Marketing

Close to twenty years ago I was meeting with a client in my office in Palo Alto California.

We were talking about where he was in the process of attracting a new client. 

I started to spontaneously draw a picture that turned out to be a baseball diamond. It was the first sketch of my Marketing Ball Model. Later that evening I drew a version of it in my computer and have been using it ever since to explain to independent professionals how marketing works.

You go around the baseball diamond base-by-base until you arrive home with a new client. And in-between the bases there are additional steps you need to take. 

Recently I've been drawing diagrams for clients via Zoom video as I work with them, to explain various aspects of the marketing process. 

Now I have a new model. Not one that replaces marketing ball, but one that explains in a more focused way how independent professionals find prospects and turn them into clients. 

It's not an original model; it's as old as the hills: a ladder. But I think you'll find it helpful because it builds on the recent articles I've been writing about direct outreach and marketing conversations. 

The most important thing to understand about this ladder model is "process and sequence." There are certain things you must do in a certain way and in a certain order to reach your desired outcome. Use a different process or sequence and you won't get the desired results. 

With a Ladder Model we start at the bottom. 


Before you even start connecting with prospective clients you need to plan and prepare your marketing. That means developing a marketing message, and writing marketing materials such as a core-issue article and website. And then you need to figure out ways to get the word out to the right prospective clients. This builds a solid ladder that will support you in your marketing efforts. 


Next, you'll choose a number of ways to reach out to prospective clients, such as by networking, sending emails, making calls, giving presentations to groups and asking for referrals. Your goal here is simple: to connect in such a way that prospective clients are motivated to respond with interest. That's all you want at first; you're still many steps before converting someone into a paying client. 


This is the step that's usually avoided the most. Once you've connected with someone through your outreach marketing, your goal is to have a conversation. Again, the purpose of this conversation is not to sell, but to discover if there is a possible need and want for your services. Your goal here is to agree to a meeting where you can explore in more depth. 


In my experience, this is the step that almost everyone misses. We often assume that if we connected, followed up and had a conversation, the prospective client already understands what we do. The truth is, they only have a vague idea. This is why, after I set up a meeting, I next send them some detailed information about my services and also a questionnaire for them to fill out. 


Now the prospect has some interest, knows much more about what I do and has shared some information about themselves, the ground is set for an exploratory meeting to discover if what I offer and what they need is a fit. Mostly this meeting includes questions about their situation and challenges, but most importantly, about the outcomes and results they are looking for. 


At the end of this exploratory conversation I'll ask if what I offer feels like a good fit for achieving the results they're looking for. Then we discuss my fees and see if they fit my prospect's budget. If you are selling to a larger company or organization, a written proposal is usually required. This sums up their desired objectives, measures of success and your process for producing results. 


Negotiation means finding a match between what the client wants, what you can deliver and what they are able to pay. When it comes to offering professional services, this is usually pretty simple and fast. If you're selling to a large company, it can often be drawn out and complex. You're always going for a win-win where it works well for everyone. 


If you've gone through all of these steps and done them well, you'll attract more clients, more consistently. But marketing is never finsihed! Taking care of clients, meeting their needs, keeping them informed and happy is the key to earning favorable testimonials, case studies and referrals. And, of course, this 8-step process never ends, but continues with each prospective client.

How to make this process work for you 

Now you have a workable, proven marketing process. Next, you need to learn all the detailed steps to make it work consistently. 

What you do to reach out, what words and images you use in your communication and how you follow up can mean the difference between a few meetings or many meetings. The information you send and how you conduct your exploratory sessions determines the percentage of prospects who turn into paying clients. 

It's simple, but not necessarily easy. 

If you want to learn how to make this process work for you, a good place to start is the More Clients Club with several marketing courses and tutorials that don't just outline the things you need to do in your marketing, but explains exactly how to do them to get the results you want. 

It took me about 10 years to learn how to market my professional services effectively. With the More Clients Club you can master this process in much less time. Whenever you need more clients, you simply apply the step-by-step processes. 

Just go here to learn more about the Club: 

Cheers, Robert 


By Robert Middleton – Acion Plan Marketing

A couple weeks ago I asked one of my Clients in England (I have two) what he was doing to track his direct outreach marketing activities. 

His answer both surprised and delighted me.

"Well, what I'm doing is keeping track of my direct outreach activities with a simple chart like this:"

It was a monthly calendar with a space for every day of the week. His goal was to do a minimum of one direct outreach activity for each one of those days.

"Even weekends?" I asked. 

"Yes, even weekends," he replied. "On those days I don't make any calls but I'll send out one email per day." 

What my client had realized is that simplicity plus consistency leads to success. And in almost all cases both of these factors are missing when it comes to marketing. 

Simplicity gives way to complexity: Charts with several columns, or numbering and scoring systems are confusing and hard to track. 

I've tried multiple systems like this, both for my own marketing and for my clients. None of us stuck with them for long. 

Consistency gives ways to inconsistency: One day certain actions are taken, the next day, none. Missed activity goals lead to guilt and more avoidance. Marketing turns into a dreaded chore. 

But when you combine simplicity with consistency, what you set out to do is relatively easy and the daily routine takes very little time.

By the way, my other English client showed me the exact same direct outreach system only a week later! Must be the climate. 

A Few Direct Outreach Guidelines

In two of my recent More Clients eZines I talked about direct outreach marketing: Reach Out and Touch Someone and Six Steps to Turning Prospects into Paying Clients. These cover the nuts and bolts of direct outreach and selling conversations. 

The simple and consistent outreach plan I explain in this article is the missing link that helps you to implement those ideas.

Your overall goal with direct outreach is to make more connections with prospective clients, get more meetings or appointments with them and covert more of them into great paying clients who get great value in working with you. 

Let me give you a few guidelines by answering some questions. 

Can I only do outreach once a day?

No, of course, you can do more if you have the time, and especially if you have a lot of prospective clients in your pipeline (or, as I say, marketing game).

But this is the most important. You cannot do less. Even if you send several outreach emails or make many calls in a day, these do not substitute for the other days of the week. Make a minimum of one outreach per day. Period. By the way, doing this five days a week is fine, but no less. 

What marketing activities are actually direct outreach?

Here are the most common ones:

Following up by email or phone with someone you met recently at an event, a conference, or even socially. If you feel they have the potential to be a client or lead you to a client, you need to connect with them.

Personalized emails (and follow-up calls) to past clients, associates or other valuable connections who can lead you to new clients. Emails or calls to ask for referrals. 

Follow-up on leads you've received. Calls or emails to organizations for speaking, interview, and writing opportunities.

Connections on LinkedIn. The more personal you make your messages, the better. If you have a first-level connection (whom you do know), explain why you want to connect with their connection (whom they know). Cookie cutter emails won't work here. 

By the way, another way to define direct outreach is, "Taking action to connect when you know you're avoiding connecting!"

Also remember, direct outreach is not cold calling. It is reaching out to those with whom you already have a connection. My experience has shown that cold calling for professional services is very difficult to succeed with. 

What do I say in my emails?

1. Say something to acknowledge or praise your receiver. Make it authentic and simple. "It was great to connect with you at the conference. Your ideas about management really got me thinking." A two- to four-sentence paragraph is enough. 

2. The reason you are contacting them. Make it clear and benefit or outcome-oriented. For example, you might offer an idea for reducing costs, increasing income or improving management – or anything else that might possibly help your prospect. Keep it short but compelling.

3. A call to action. This really depends on your relationships, but what you want to request is a "short chat" not a long meeting. Short chats lead to longer meetings. I also suggest you propose a few times that will work for you so they don't have to send an extra email to find out. 

By the way, the more personal the better. One of my clients gets an almost immediate response to most of the emails she sends to past contacts because of her relationships with them.

Sometimes an email is enough to get a response. But you may have to make a number of follow-up emails or calls to finally connect. Friendly persistence is the key.   

How do I prepare for these calls?

Scripting. Think seriously about what you want to say, write it down and read it aloud. Make it simple and direct. Don't waste time with idle chit chat. Here's an example.

"Hi, this is James, we met at the Management Conference last week. I'd sent an email but wanted to follow up. Is this a good time to talk for just a minute?

"Great, I really appreciated some of the ideas you shared at the conference. You really got me thinking about how much better management and leadership can be. 

"We also shared some ideas about how to attract more high-end clients to your business. I'd love to chat for a few minutes about those ideas. Is now a good time or is another time better?"

When you are reaching out to someone, you are "on stage in your business." Be prepared, don't wing it. This goes for both emails and phone calls.

Won't people feel that these emails and calls are an interruption?

Perhaps, but so what? If you write good emails and make effective calls, you won't get much resistance. If you fear resistance and rejection, you're more likely to get them. 

I helped a client create a very successful speaking plan. First, he called a number of organizations and then sent his speaker's kit. If he hadn't reached out he wouldn't have gotten any talks. 

Then he got cards from attendees at teh talks and determined their interest before he followed up with them. He landed appointments and ultimately earned himself many new clients. 

He told me, "Robert, I was actually very surprised that people were happy to hear from me and willing to talk. I didn't expect that at all." 

When you commit to doing it, it's easier than you may think.

When direct outreach emails and calls lead to selling conversations, what do I do next? 

Well, one thing that almost everyone misses is sending some detailed information about your services before you meet with a prospective client. And also find out as much about them as possible before you meet. 

This way, selling conversations go faster because you're already up to speed with each other. I've also found that you close business faster if you do this. 

What are the biggest challenges or obstacles to doing direct outreach marketing?

1. Fear of resistance or rejection. Everyone seems to have this built in. You need to clearly see that this fear is mostly imaginary.

2. Not preparing. You need to get organized, think this through, create lists of people to contact, script what you'll say, and practice. There's a big return from this kind of activity. 

3. Indifference. If you are motivated to grow your business you'll find this a whole lot easier. If being comfortable is more important than succeeding, you simply won't take the steps required. 

Where do I start?

Read over this article a few times and Start Now!

Cheers, Robert 


By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

Have you ever found yourself trying to explain your business to a potential client, but you're not getting through?

First you start with concepts: "We use a proprietary process to optimize your management priorities for maximum buy-in." Well, it might mean something to you, but probably not a lot to your listener. So, you try again. 

"We work with companies to turn their leadership upside down and put the investors and customers in charge."

OK, a little better, but people still won't get it.  

After struggling with the "perfect words" to explain your business, with little result, you realize that concepts alone aren't going to work; they are hard to relate to and you've missed the outcome. 

So you use a story or example instead: "We worked with a company that was struggling because their top-down leader approach was getting a lot of resistance. By shifting to a servant leadership model, productivity and sales went up."

OK, that's a lot better; the main idea of shifting from a top-down approach to a servant leadership approach is more interesting. And talking about outcomes also helps. 

But do prospects really understand this? Do they know how it works? What exactly is servant leadership? How are those outcomes achieved?

Here's the problem:

All marketing is communication. So all of these are attempts to communicate some value that you offer clients. We're discovering that concepts are limited and that examples or stories are better. 

But we leave out the most important thing of all. Visual communication. A picture is worth a thousand words. 

But what most small business don't realize is that if you create a visual model for your business, your communication will start to connect in a whole new way. 

Let me show you: The Top Down Leadership Model: 

And then let me tell you: As you can see in this diagram, the leader is at the top and the customers are at the bottom. In this model, leadership is expected to know everything and then direct those below to take action. But this model has a lot of problems. It stifles feedback and participation, and productivity and morale suffer as a result. 

That makes sense, right? But notice how the image makes it so much clearer. 

Let me show you another one. The Servant Leadership Model:

Let me tell you more: With this inverted pyramid, the shareholders, customers and employees are at the top. They are offering ideas, feedback and resources that the leader takes and works to develop, implement and support. The leader sees him or herself as a servant, not a dictator. 

Pretty cool, right?

This is how having and using a model helps communicate much more powerfully how you help your clients. Your prospective clients will get it faster, see the benefits and be interested in learning more. 

Of course, we learned this valuable lesson in "show-and-tell" in grade school, but then we grew up, became more sophisticated and relied more on concepts. Big mistake!

Here's a model For Financial Planning Services:

Financial planning can be seen as complex and scary to many. "What if I do the wrong thing, don't make the right investments, or save enough for a secure retirement?" 

This model simplifies things. We all understand the concept of a road map and we know we can use it to figure out how to move from one place to another. 

"On the way to a secure retirement are certain benchmarks which you need to understand and take certain actions. As a Certified Financial Planner, I've helped guide many people along this road map and I can guide you as well." 

That's a pretty good explanation, but when you show the actual model as an image, it becomes even clearer and looks much more achievable.

The Marketing Ball Model:

I developed this model about sixteen years ago and have been using it ever since. It's much like the road map model, except that I also add the dimension of a game. 

"All you need to do is go around the bases and take actions between the bases to ensure you get solidly on each base. Each base represents where your prospects are in your marketing process. When you take a prospect around all the bases you end up with a new client."

I also use this model when coaching my clients on how to play Marketing Ball. When they finally see it as a game, they start playing more enthusiastically and winning many more new clients. 

What is your Business Model?

You might start with the process you actually use with your clients, the process that helps your clients get the results they desire. 

Maybe this process is not too organized yet or all the pieces of the puzzle aren't quite clear (a puzzle is a popular model, by the way), but with that start, you can begin fleshing out your model and ultimately turning it into some kind of a diagram. 

To stimulate your creativity, do a Google search such as "wellness model of health" – "personal growth model" – "online marketing model" or "business communication model." (click to see the various models)

Don't copy these models; use them for inspiration and to gain clarity. You need to understand how your model works, inside and out, and then test it to make sure it's valid. 

I created the Marketing Ball model while meeting with a client. The idea spontaneously popped into my head. So, don't force your model. Write down some ideas and research existing models. 

Then start using your model in your marketing to assist you in explaining how and why this model can help them get the results they desire. 

Image of Model + Explanation of Model = Persuasion

You just may find that communicating about what you do and how you help your clients is easier than ever before. 

Cheers, Robert 

P.S. I work individually with a wide variety of independent professionals using the Marketing Ball Game to help them attract more clients. If you'd like to know more, just visit this page


By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

When I was a kid, I loved to read Superman comics. For several years I was up-to-date on everything related to this comic book hero. And I liked to imagine that I was infused with super powers. 

Of course, that dream quickly faded over time as reality set in. I was clearly just an ordinary person. 

But later in life, when I started my own business I discovered it was actuality possible to develop superpowers – Marketing Superpowers. 

With these superpowers I was able to accomplish the following:

Consistently got the attention of complete strangers

Met with many prospects with only a letter and a phone call

Got business cards from 80% of those who attended talks I gave

Grew a worldwide email list of 50,000 self-employed people

Wrote close to 1,000 articles over a 20-year period

Sold $600K worth of InfoGuru Manuals through my website

Filled one-year programs with just three or four emails

Earned $20K to $35K monthly several years straight

Now maintain a over-full marketing coaching practice

These marketing superpowers led to a lot of success in my business. It was amazing to me because only a few years earlier I had been struggling to make ends meet. 

There are a few things you should know about marketing superpowers. 

First of all, anyone can develop certain superpowers and use them to grow their business – but few can develop all superpowers. 

You'll have more success in developing superpowers where you already have some powers that are not yet fully developed. 

The main impediment to developing marketing superpowers is the belief that you are not capable or worthy of doing so. 

All marketing superpowers are based on communication. 

These include the superpowers of writing, networking, speaking to groups, growing a list, developing services and programs, etc. 

In the early days of my business, I spent most of my energy developing the superpowers of writing and speaking to groups. But I always struggled with networking and it took me a long time to develop packaging, selling and pricing superpowers. 

Remember, superpowers are not magic or mystical or unusual. They are simply underdeveloped in most people. 

How do you develop marketing superpowers? 

Study, practice, experiment, repeat, fail (a little), fine-tune and apply large doses of patience. 

Books, videos, courses, articles, and working with a coach are all included in the learning habits of most independent professionals who want to accelerate their marketing superpowers.

One thing is for sure – superpowers don't come accidentally. They come from knowledge, intention and hard work.   

Is there one "master" marketing superpower? 

That is, is there one key superpower that will help you build other marketing superpowers? For instance, Superman's key superpower is his strength; everything else comes out of that. 

For marketers, the key superpower is WRITING.

If you develop this superpower, you'll be able to write emails, articles, web content, sales letters, presentations, services and courses that result in more clients buying your services.

And that is a LOT of marketing power.  

In working with some clients I've noticed they can already write fairly coherently. They can communicate clearly and their voice is already authentic. All they need is some structure and guidelines to turn their existing writing ability into a client-attracting superpower. 

Some people struggle with writing. 

It can be an effort to write a single sentence, let alone a coherent paragraph. Often I'll suggest to these clients that they put more attention on networking and connecting personally through talks and videos. 

The good news is that everyone can discover and develop their own marketing superpowers. 

It starts with intention. I remember declaring that I wanted to be the go-to person in the SF Bay Area for self-employed people who needed help with attracting more clients. Five years later that was true. 

It continues with education. I'm a do-it-yourself kind of person. I read a whole lot of books and took a number of courses on marketing. I was always learning. In a few years I had enough knowledge, insight and success to write my own marketing book.

It ends with application. Every time I studied something that looked feasible, I gave it a try, from developing my marketing message to launching high-end group programs. Ultimately I ended up working with a full load of clients. 

Here's my question for you. In what areas are you already a strong communicator? And what marketing superpower would you like to develop to build on that existing strength?

I would like to hear from you. 

Please share your thoughts in the comments section on the blog. Describe your strengths and desired superpowers. Put your intention out there. You can think about this forever and never move into action or you can take a stand and commit to being a marketing superhero. 

Cheers, Robert 

P.S. I work individually with a wide variety of independent professionals to help them grow their own marketing superpower. If you'd like to know more, just visit this page


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

More Blog Posts...
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.