We build businesses. Even little ones.

We build businesses.
Even little ones.

IttyBiz Confessional: “What if I’m not awesome enough?”

First, go sign up for our new Pay What You Can course, the Emergency Turnaround Clinic. It’s Pay What You Can, for God’s sake. How bad can it be?

Every week, we get letters from readers about problems they can’t tell anyone else about.  We’re answering these in the IttyBiz Confessional column on Wednesdays.

Dear Naomi,

I’m scared.  I’ve been trying to build my freelancing business for about a year and a half now, and I’m intimidated by the competition.  They all seem to be larger than life and doing these amazing things, and when I look in my inbox, twitter and facebook all I see is products and events and such that are way bigger than anything I think I can ever do.

When it comes to the “awesome” factor that I keep hearing is so critical, I’m pretty boring.  I don’t have the money for flashy web design, and I don’t have the resources to be all over social media getting constant attention and promotion from other people in my niche.  I’m good at what I do but I’m not an exhibitionist at heart.  I just can’t seem to bring myself to do all the things everyone else is doing to get attention.

I’m not Gary V.  I’m not a rockstar.  I’m not famous, and I’m not a “brand.”  I’m just a graphic designer who does good work for good clients and I could sure use a lot more of them.  I just can’t put myself on stage and yell “look at me” like so many others do to get them, though. (Not that my stage is very big anyway, with my 153 Twitter followers!)

I keep hearing that I need to be awesome to get attention in my crowded market, and I’m scared I won’t be able to keep up.  I’m scared I’ll never be awesome.  What do I do?

* Edited to remove identifying details

Honey, I hear you.  These days you can’t move for “awesome.”  Every few years some catchword makes its way into the business lexicon, and people go off the deep end trying to play it out to the maximum expression.  First you had to be “transparent” on your blog.  Then you had to start “engaging the customer” on social media.  Now, it seems to be “awesome.”

(“Excited” seems to be back in vogue now, as well. I toyed around with the idea of creating a drinking game for every time I heard “I’m so excited” used to describe a new product or service on social media, but I realized that the there wasn’t enough gin in the world for that one.)

But back to you.  When you don’t feel awesome in an awesome world, the future can seem kind of scary.  Let’s talk about making that scary go away and getting some more clients in the door.

First of all, “awesome” is not the primary thing paying customers look for, period.

Think like a client. We’ll call him Julian.

Julian has a problem.  He wants something to be done for him, say, his books.  Julian is looking for an accountant.  So he does a quick search for “accountants in Des Moines” and comes up with 56 different accountants.

He starts looking at a few of their websites (and quite frankly, they’re a little bit boring), but he sees the words he needs on one of them: “10 years experience” and “we’ll come to you”.

Julian calls up the accountant, likes what he hears, and hires her.  A check for $1,000 is sent off.  Julian is happy.  The CPA is happy.  End of story.

Jennifer also has a problem.  She wants an accountant, but she only wants “the best.”  She wants an accountant that’s cool. She lives across town from Julian, so when she does the same search for accountants, she sees the same results – but she’s looking for a rockstar accountant to impress her friends with (because Jennifer always hires “the best.”).

She looks for the flashiest website she can find, which naturally, features an accounting firm with all of the “awesome” you can eat.  This firm hosts CPA conferences and events, has won 20 awards and has personally sent a manned space mission to the moon (and written the whole damned thing off, to boot).  Their CEO has a best-selling book, “By The Numbers,” and has been featured on Oprah at least once a year.  This is the rockstar accountant to end all rockstar accountants. Who knew Des Moines was so hip?

Jennifer hires the Awesome Accounting Firm and sends off a check for $8,000.  Jennifer is happy.  The CEO is pretty damned happy himself.

That’s the kind of story that makes you think you need to “crank up the awesomesauce” all the way to 11.  And sure, you can do that, but you need to remember something very, very important.

For every Jennifer out there, there are about 50 to 100 Julians.  You may wear yourself out and go broke fighting for the Jennifers, but going after the Julians will keep you in house and home a lot more easily.

Don’t forget this.  You don’t have to be awesome to be competitive.  There’s plenty of money out there for people who provide non-awesome products and services.

Stop thinking awesome, and start thinking hireable.  Think like a client.  They want the job done a hell of a lot more than they want you to be awesome.

Next: Don’t assume clients want to pay for “awesome.”

I want you to go through the next few weeks taking a look at your buying decisions and the companies you buy from.  Chances are, you’re not as swayed by the “wow” factor or the “buy only the best” attitude when it comes to what you buy.

When you get an oil change, are you going to the swankiest car shop in town to get their Platinum Premium Package (where every service is personally performed by the Royal Couple in 30 minutes or less)?  Or do you go to a “good” place that does the things you want them to do at a decent price?

When you go out to dinner and order a bottle of wine, do you automatically look for the coolest, trendiest vintage? Do you drop $400 on a bottle of Veuve Cliquot Demi-Sec served by a caravan of nymphs?  Or do you say, “Let’s find a nice Pinot somewhere around $40.  I like that kind of thing.”

You don’t require the best of the best in everything.  You don’t even want the best of everything.  Jesus himself could be offering miracle 30-second oil changes at the corner garage, and you don’t care.

Like most of your customers, you’re thinking of two things, and two things only:

  • You want to find someone who can get the damned job done well.
  • You want that person to fit your budget.

End of story.

It’s easy to assume that customers are looking for the best of the best – and some will – but the truth is the vast majority of your customers are thinking only of the thing they want to happen and their budget.  Because of that, they’re not looking for someone “awesome,” they’re looking for someone competent.  Someone who they can trust to get the job done.

You don’t have to show the world you’re awesome to get more clients.  You just have to show them you’re good at what you do, and that you have an easily discernible price range.  You don’t have to be flashy.  You have to be real.

Take a look at your website, your promotional materials, and all such client-facing stuff, and put yourself in your client’s shoes.  What do they need to see in them to feel like you can get the job done?  What do they need to see to communicate your price effectively? Make sure that stuff is easy to find, and more customers will find you.

(Don’t let this overwhelm you. Pick one change you can make this week and do that. You know what you should be doing. Just do it and try to stop hyperventilating. Every bite counts.)

Sure, you won’t get the Jennifers if you’re not a rockstar.  But her absence will make room for all those Julians, even if you don’t live in Des Moines.

And speaking of not awesome…

If the wolf is at the door and your business isn’t exactly doing what you want it to be doing, go sign up for our Emergency Turnaround Clinic. It’s a clinic. For emergencies. And turning things around. It makes no claims of being awesome. It might, however, allow you to keep your house. It’s also on Sliding Scale Pricing (also known as Pay What You Can), which I guess is kind of awesome.