YouTube Has Updated Its Partner Program Requirements — Here’s What Marketers Need to Know

YouTube announced yesterday that it has modified the eligibility requirements for its Partner Program (YPP), which will change the ways and ability Creators can monetize their content on the platform.

Here’s what we know so far — and how marketers can prepare.

What YouTube’s New Partner Program Requirements Mean for Marketers

Changes to the YouTube Partner Program 

Beginning February 20 of this year — 30 days from now — Creators must have accrued 4,000 hours of watch time over the past year, in addition to 1,000 channel subscribers, the official statement explained. Compare that to previous eligibility requirements of only 10,000 lifetime views, as of last April.

Creators who do not currently meet those requirements have the next 30 days to reach those numbers. Otherwise, YouTube says, they will no longer be eligible for monetization, effective February 20.

However, even if Creators do meet that deadline, there doesn’t appear to be any guarantee that they will be eligible for YPP — rather, YouTube says, the only promise is that they’ll be “re-evaluated under strict criteria” to determine acceptance into the program.

Why YouTube Is Doing This

Last week, we reported on some changes to the Facebook News Feed that will make content from friends and family — as opposed to brands — more visible to users. That action, we predicted, was largely in response the scrutiny the network has received after being weaponized to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

YouTube, for its part, faced similar scrutiny in 2017 — its parent company, Google, is expected to appear before U.S. Congress today with specific, actionable information on how it plans to prevent such meddling and weaponization in the future.

That could explain the timing of this particular announcement, as stricter YouTube monetization requirements will likely play a role in Google’s overall content and guideline modification efforts.

However, YouTube also came under fire last month after one of its highest-earning creators, Logan Paul, posted graphic and offensive content to his channel. Since then, the channel has severed ties Paul has a preferred ad partner. 

What Marketers Can Do Now

YouTube, for its part, is downplaying the impact that these changes will have on Creators, at least when it comes to the loss of revenue.

According to the statement, 99% of Creators who do not meet the new requirements have, on average, earned less than $100 annually (over the past year).

And what income they have accrued prior to the February 20th deadline, YouTube says, they will still receive — based on Google’s AdSense policies.

YouTube has not made it clear, however, if Creators who reach these numbers after February 20th will still be eligible to apply for its partner program, though we will be keeping an eye on more specific information in its guidelines over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, accruing thousands of hours of views and subscribers within a 30-day period is no easy task. But the same rules apply here as they would to building an audience on any social media channel: create high-quality, personalized content that’s relevant to the audience you’re trying to reach.

Our comprehensive collection of tactical YouTube marketing content dives into these specifics, ranging from how to optimize videos for SEO and ranking, to how to run an ad campaign on the platform.

As always, feel free to reach out with your thoughts and questions on Twitter.

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5 Creative Strategies to Stay Inspired to Write All Year [Infographic]

If there’s one thing we know about inspiration, it’s that it’s not very good at giving advance notice of anything.

It crops up at the most inopportune time — like when you’re without a pen or a device to otherwise record a brilliant idea. 

And other times, when you need it the most — it’s nowhere to be found.

It also has its very own version of low seasons, when writers are left without special events or holidays to stimulate creativity. Now that the holidays are behind us, for example, many of us are feeling deprived of prolific cheer?

But as it turns out, these claims are little more than excuses. Inspiration, it turns out, can be sought any time, anywhere.

One of our very favorite infographic artists, Henneke Duistermaat, knows this to be true — and thus compiled her thoughts on the matter in the captivating visual below.

Have a look, and discover how you can find the inspiration to write and blog — with consistency — all year.


Get-inspired-to-write-and-blog-consistently-infographic


What to Do When a New Potential SEO Client Contacts You

Posted by dohertyjf

Editor’s note: We originally published a different article by mistake due to an oversight and a valuable lesson in the dangers of copy-paste; you can see it live here. We truly apologize for the error.


If you’re an agency owner or solo consultant, you’re probably constantly thinking about getting new clients. And we’re inundated in this industry with too much advice around new marketing funnels, new marketing ideas, and “one weird tricks to 10x your traffic overnight.”

But something we don’t talk about enough is what you do when you actually convert that person into a real contact on your site.

I’m not talking about “a lead” here, because that word is used widely in our space and has come to mean everything and nothing at the same time. A lead could be an email address and it could be a long-form submission telling you everything about their needs, as well as their budget and their birth city.

What I’m talking about here is a marketing qualified lead (MQL) that you are going to turn into a sales qualified lead (SQL) so that you can turn them into a business qualified lead (aka a new client). (Note: I just made up business qualified lead, so don’t go around talking about BQLs. Or do, but credit me!).

Over the last two years I’ve helped a lot of businesses connect with great marketing providers through my company Credo, and through that I’ve been able to watch how agencies and consultants alike pitch work.

I see all sorts of strategies done to try to close a lead into a client, such as:

  • Send an intake survey to try to vet the lead more;
  • Send them a Calendly link to get them to schedule a call as soon as possible;
  • Send an initial proposal after the first call and then refine it with the client on the phone;
  • Send tracked proposals using a tool like DocSend so you can follow up depending on whether they’ve viewed it or not.

There are many more I’ve seen as well. Some work well, others don’t. This post isn’t going to dig into the various tactics you can use, as you should be testing those yourself.

What I care about is that you develop a sales strategy that sets a strong base and that you can build from into the future.

I also have a unique view on our industry, because I get to see what kind of sales process actually closes potential clients into actual clients. While you may be doing something that you think works really well, there’s a great chance that I know a better way.

And today, I’m going to give you a view into what I know closes clients, and the sales process that I use to close a high percentage of projects who want to work with me into clients.


What to do when a client contacts you

The first rule of sales in a service business like a consulting agency is that the earlier you reply to a prospective client, the more likely you are to close them into an actual client.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve tried to educate businesses that they should speak with multiple agencies and get multiple proposals, to understand what each agency has to offer and be able to compare them in order to arrive at the right decision for their specific business.

And yet, time and time again I see the first agency to respond to be the one to close the project probably 70% of the time.

This can absolutely be a templated response, and tools like Gmail’s Canned Responses or templates within your CRM of choice can help. I personally use HubSpot’s and push form entries there via Zapier, but there are many different options out there; I’m sure you can find one that connects your form technology to your CRM.

In your response, you have to include these three points at minimum:

  1. Respond as quickly as possible and thank them for contacting you
  2. Acknowledge the project they say they’re interested in
  3. Schedule a time to chat on the phone as quickly as possible

As I said above, I’ve seen many agencies send an intake questionnaire that’s a page or two long before even getting on the phone with the potential client.

I advise against this simply because this slows down the process. Some clients that you would otherwise win will simply move on to another agency. You’re giving them work when really what you need to do is remove friction from their decision to choose you.

This initial contact is also not the place to tell them all of the brands you’ve helped and the results you’ve gotten. If they’re contacting you, they’re already interested. Don’t make them think.

You have one goal with your response: to get them to schedule a phone call with you.


What to learn on the first call

If you’ve followed my instructions above, you’re getting the client to schedule a call with you (when you’re available) as quickly as possible. Don’t forget to have them include their phone number, as well!

Schedule the call for 30 minutes so that you can:

  1. Get an understanding for their project, and
  2. Not invest too much time into them in case they’re not qualified enough.

As a side note, if you’re getting too many “leads” (may we all be so lucky) that are not qualified for your business and thus wasting you or your salesperson’s time, then you may want to look at adding some friction to your lead forms. More is not always better.

You should have an idea of who your best clients are and the kind of work they’ve hired you to do that you are best-in-class doing; you need to walk away from this first call at minimum knowing if they’re a good fit or not.

If they are a good fit, then you can move them forward in your sales process (usually a recap and another call).

You’ll also be able to use this process to qualify out the leads who on the surface seem to be a good fit because they were able and willing to successfully fill out your lead form, but when you dig deeper into their business and needs, you realize they’re not quite such a good fit. We’ll talk about this more in a minute.

On this initial phone call, you need to cover all of these points to determine whether you should pitch the work or not:

  1. What their business model is, so that you can understand if they’re profitable;
  2. The type of project they’re looking for, such as strategy or services or a combination thereof;
  3. Their internal team structure and their knowledge of the marketing channel they’re inquiring to you about;
  4. Whether the person you’re speaking with is the person who has final sign-off and budgetary control, or if they’ve been tasked with sourcing an agency but ultimately are not the decision maker;
  5. Their budget range;
  6. Their timetable for wanting to get started.

Thank them for their time and set their expectations about what you’ll do next and when they can expect to hear back from you.

Now your work really begins.


After the first call

Assuming the first call with your prospective client goes well, you’ll need a process to follow so that followups don’t fail and the process moves forward.

This part is important.

Right after the call, follow up with the person you spoke with via email to recap the call and reiterate your next steps.

First, thank them for their time. Regardless of whether or not you ultimately decide to pitch the project, you should be grateful that they decided to speak with you and not someone else.

Second, recap what you discussed on the call. I like to take notes with my CRM (I use HubSpot, as mentioned above) and then use those to write the recap. A CRM should integrate with your email system and allow you to email the prospect from directly within it so that you don’t have to move between your CRM and your email client.

Here’s a templated response that I use when replying to someone after our initial call:

Hi FNAME,

Thank you for the conversation today! I enjoyed learning more about your business and how we can potentially help.

As we discussed, COMPANY is looking for TYPE OF PROJECT. (recap the project here)

As I mentioned on the call, my next step is to spend some time reviewing your site and your project to determine if it is the right fit for me as well. I will follow up with you within 48 hours (NOTE: THIS CAN CHANGE IF YOU CHATTED ON FRIDAY, IN WHICH CASE SAY END OF DAY ON MONDAY) with my findings and where I think I can add value to your business. In the case that your project is not the right fit for me, I can suggest some other people you should speak with.

Thanks FNAME, and you will hear from me soon!

John

Now you can review their project and website metrics to see where you can add value, and if it’s a project that can be successful within the budget they have outlined for you.

Then, decide if you should pitch for the project or refer them elsewhere.


Deciding whether to pitch the work

Sales is all about determining who the right prospects are and are not, then optimizing your time to focus on the clients you want to sign — not on the ones that are a poor fit for your business.

Hopefully you know who your ideal customer is, in terms of budget but also the type of work they need (strategy, services, or some combination thereof) as well as the marketing channel(s). Once you know who your ideal customer is (and is not), you’ll have a much easier time determining whether or not you should pitch the work.

In my experience with seeing over a thousand projects introduced to marketing providers, the six factors mentioned in the “What to learn on the first call” section are the ones that reliably help you understand whether you should pitch the work or not.

Some of the factors to avoid are:

  1. Unrealistic expectations or timelines
  2. No or low budget
  3. No resources to get things done
  4. Their last four agencies haven’t worked out
  5. Going out of business “unless they get help”

I love that so many in the SEO industry are helpful and genuinely good people who want to help others, but if you start taking on clients that can’t pay you what you need to operate a profitable business or have had issues with many other agencies, then you’re doing yourself and your business a disservice.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard an agency say that they “pitched the work, but set the budget high” I’d be financially independent and retired to a mountain town in Switzerland by now.

Hear me loud and clear here:

You do not have to pitch every project that falls into your lap.

If the project doesn’t meet your minimum project budget, the type of client you can get outsized returns for, or is not within your core competency (your zone of genius), then you should not pitch the project.

Let me explain why.

If a client is below your minimum project threshold and you pitch them, you’ve wasted two people’s time. You’ve wasted your time by creating a proposal and potential project plan, and you’ve wasted their time because they took time out of their day to review something that they’ll never sign off on.

Second, if they negotiate back to try to get the budget lower, you’re going to spend your time to get a project that is smaller than what they ideally need and can afford. You’re literally spending time to make less money, when you could take that time to pitch and negotiate with someone who can easily afford your services.

Should you sign the project that is smaller than or right at your minimum while at the same time being at very top end of their budget, you can rest assured that this client will take up more time than they’re paying for because they feel pressure to make it work quickly. Unless you set expectations explicitly and are very good at saying no to requests for work that are outside of the scope of what they’re paying for, this project will quickly snowball and take up too much time, thus putting it in the red.

Don’t pitch a project that’s very likely to go into the red budget-wise. That is Business 101, and you will regret it. I promise.


Conclusion

I hope this post has been helpful to you in learning what to do when a new potential consulting client first contacts you or your agency.

First, speed is of the essence. While we want to believe that the best pitch will ultimately win the business, experience tells us that it is most often the first person to respond who actually gets to pitch and sign the business.

Second, get the potential client on the phone as quickly as possible. Don’t rely on email, as you can gain way more information on a 30-minute call than in a string of emails. People are busy and you don’t want to create more friction for them. Get them on the phone.

Third, you need to send a followup email within a few hours of the phone call where you thank them for their time, recap what you discussed, and set their expectations for what your next steps are and when they’ll hear from you again. Feel free to use my template and adjust it for your specific needs.

Fourth, decide if you want to pitch the project. Don’t pitch projects that are too small, outside your/your agency’s zone of genius, where what you have to offer is not their highest leverage option, or where they’re not set up internally to make the project successful. Your project will not succeed if any of these are true.

I am also writing an ebook, hopefully out in Q1 2018, about everything I’ve learned seeing over 1,100 projects come through Credo. If you’re interested to hear when it launches, sign up.

I’d love to hear your comments below and interact with you around better sales for digital marketing consulting work!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Top Challenges of Website Redesigns

Marketing toolsYour website is one of the most important marketing tools available. You work tirelessly to drive traffic to specific landing pages in the hopes that your content and call-to-actions (CTA) are enticing enough to win customers over. However, every now and then you need to do more than just revamp a landing page or upgrade your content. Sometimes you must do a complete website redesign. Here are the top challenges of website redesigns. 

1. Going on a Gut-Feel and Emulating Competitors

Assumptions and guesswork have no place in website redesigns. It’s not about what you think should change, or what you assume should be removed, and it’s never about copying or emulating your competition.  A website redesign is driven from the data and analytics at your fingertips. It comes from what your customers tell you every time they interact with your website. It comes from how they move from one page to the next and what they search for. It’s about understanding your bounce rates and how much time customers spend on individual pages. However, it’s never about your gut-feel. 

2. Not Having Clearly Defined Goals and Objectives

What are you hoping to accomplish? Understanding your goals and objectives and having a plan is critical. There must be a reason for the website redesign. It must have a purpose. You may want to improve your website’s navigation, include more white-space within the design to draw attention to specific icons, images, offers, and CTAs, or you may simply want to make your website more mobile-friendly. Regardless of why, it’s important to have goals and objectives and systematic periods of review to make sure you’re on track, within budget, and meeting timelines.   

3. Relying Upon the Insight of too Many People

Everybody has an opinion and that’s often the problem. Keep the discussion about the redesign to a select few customer-facing individuals. Limit who has a say and don’t allow too many people to get involved. It’s great to get feedback, but the most important feedback comes from customers. This is ultimately why your redesign should be viewed as a long-term pursuit, one where the design is redone and you monitor how customers react. It’s never static. It’s never stationary and you should be willing to modify your design from time to time based on how your customers interact with your website. 

Marketing tools

4. Not Having a Budget and Ignoring the Complexity of the Task at Hand

It’s easy to get caught up with all the changes and it’s not uncommon to spend more than you can afford. This outcome is the result of not having a plan, not having goals and objectives and having expectations that are beyond your budget and nowhere near reasonable. A website redesign isn’t simple. It’s a complex and involved affair and ignoring that complexity and the financial constraints of your budget will surely lead to problems. 

5. Choosing the Wrong Digital Marketing Agency

Choosing the wrong digital marketing agency can set you back months in delays, not to mention cause irreparable harm to your budget and online reputation. Make sure you review the digital marketing agency’s portfolio. Look at what they’ve accomplished with other websites. Ask them what they use as a free website traffic generator. Focus on how they drive traffic, how that traffic is converted and how content is structured. Speak to their customers and scrutinize their work. Choosing a digital marketing agency is critical so make sure you’re comfortable with your choice.  

Redesigning your website is an elaborate and involved affair. The focus must be to design a user-friendly website your customers can easily navigate and one that will operate as the ultimate opportunity funnel.

If you are a small-business, there is typically added complexity especially if you are not technically savvy.  Having to run a business plus generated new business is difficult.  For those that want assistance, we have a small-business digital marketing program designed specifically for you.

If you need a forward-thinking digital marketing agency to redesign your website, we can help. Contact us.

 

How to Write Copy People Notice, Read, and Trust: Lessons from “The World’s Best Copywriter”

The phone rang a couple times before he picked up.

“Hello?”

“Hi,” I said. “Is this Pat Corpora?”

“Yes, it is.”

“It’s Eddie Shleyner,” I said. Silence. “I sent you a message on LinkedIn … about the Sampler. You replied with your number … told me to call.”

In 1995, Pat published The Doctor’s Vest-Pocket Sampler of Natural Remedies, a piece of direct response mail designed to sell a bigger, more complete book called New Choices in Natural Healing.

In other words, the free “sampler” book was designed to garner the attention, engagement, and trust necessary to sell prospect’s on the real product, the money-maker.

“Oh!” he said. “Hi, Eddie.” He sounded enthused. I could tell he was a nice guy. “How can I help?”

“Well,” I said. “I’m sure you know, the Sampler is famous.”

Pat smirked. “Okay.”

“At least it is among copywriters,” I said. “That’s why I’m calling: I’m writing an article about the Sampler — because it’s a master class in written persuasion — and I want to make sure I get the facts right.”

“Sure.”

“Well, first of all,” I said, “how many did you send out?”

“Oh, I’m sure we mailed 50 million copies,” said Pat. He paused. “Yeah, about that many.” He paused again. “It was a huge number.”

“And how many books did that sell?”

“Oh, millions.”

“Millions?” I said.

Millions. It was our most successful mailer ever.”

How did Pat sell all those books?

He hired Gary Bencivenga to write the copy.

Bencivenga is a Hall of Fame copywriter. He’s on par with John Caples and Eugene Schwartz, David Ogilvy and Joe Sugarman. He knew what he was doing. That is, he knew how to write copy that captured attention, garnered engagement, and drove readers to take action.

Like any effective copywriter, Bencivenga was part writer, part psychologist. As a writer, he was able to produce clear, concise sentences. As a psychologist, he excelled at thinking like his prospect. He understood her, empathized with her. And that’s what this article is about.

It’s about the big-picture concepts you can learn by studying one of Bencivenga’s most successful controls. In other words, this article won’t teach you how to write like a copywriter as much as it’ll teach you how to think like one.

You’ll learn the rules of the trade, the fundamentals of crafting ad copy people notice, read, and trust.

How to write copy people notice, read, and trust.

If you don’t already own The Doctor’s Vest-Pocket Sampler of Natural Remedies, you can buy one on Amazon for a buck or two plus shipping. If you’re a serious student of copywriting, I recommend ordering your copy as soon as possible, reading it daily, and transcribing it often.

When you receive it, smile. You’re holding one of the finest direct marketing assets ever created.

What makes it great? It follows three important principles:

1. It hones in on a single, primary desire.

That’s why people notice it in the first place.

People buy things to achieve their desires. Period.

“Every product appeals to two, or three or four of these mass desires,” writes Eugene Schwartz in his classic book, Breakthrough Advertising. “But only one can predominate.”

The Sampler’s target audience was older, likely suffering from an ailment, likely fatigued from the side-effects of conventional medicine, and likely eager for alternatives. Natural alternatives. Bencivenga honed in on this.

How to Hone In

Once you know, with absolute certainty, what it is your prospect desires:

a) Make the desire plainly visible and unmistakably clear.

This will ensure that the prospect sees it.

The Sampler displays the words “NATURAL REMEDIES” in big, bold, capital letters on its cover. In fact, those words appear twice, which brings us to my next point …

b) Repeat the desire over and over, using synonymous terms.

This will keep the prospect engaged without wearing her out on the same verbiage.

The Sampler alludes to the concept of “natural remedies” using many different terms, including “self-help remedies” and “non-surgical remedies” and a half-dozen others. Each is a new and engaging way to remind the prospect about the same thing. Each variation whispers, “This is what you want, Dear Reader. Remember? This is what you need!”

c) Sound realistic.

This will allow the prospect to take your copy seriously.

The Sampler doesn’t over-step its product’s promise. For instance, the word “antidotes” sounds more compelling than “remedies” but it’s also less plausible, which is why Bencivenga never uses it. After all, he’s selling a book with thousands of medical suggestions. They’re not all winners. Reasonable people know this.

If you say something that plants doubt in your prospect’s mind, even once, you might lose her. Fantastic claims are risky because they’re hard to believe. Temper your promise to give the message a chance.

2. It doesn’t look like an ad.

That’s why people read it.

The Doctor’s Vest-Pocket Sampler of Natural Remedies doesn’t look like a mailer. It looks like a book:

The cover is card stock and paper inside is thick, too. The back is blank, clean, except for the publisher’s mission statement: “We publish books that empower people’s lives.”

The Sampler is also 50 pages long, neatly organized into four enticing chapters:

Chapter 1: Natural Remedies for Whatever Ails You …

Chapter 2: Secret Healing Triggers …

Chapter 3: How to Instantly Get a Second Opinion, or a Third, Fourth, or Tenth!

Chapter 4: For a Lifetime of Greater Health, Try This …

Each chapter is well-formatted and written in plain English that’s scannable and digestible, peppered with bolding and italics that highlight value. Bencivenga gave the Sampler all the characteristics of a real book, which is why Debra-from-Nebraska pulled it from her mailbox, then sat down, put on her glasses, and actually took the time to read it.

“Allow the reader to enter into your ad with the least possible mental shifting of gears from ‘editorial’ to ‘advertisement’,” writes Schwartz. “A single change in format can add 50% to your readership, and your results.” Schwartz calls this concept Copy Camouflage. It refers to taking elements from trusted mediums and using them to lend clout to your ad. This is also known as “borrowed believability.”

Online advertorial articles, or “sponsored” posts, are a good example of this: they look and read like typical articles but have a hidden sales agenda. Bencivenga uses the same tactic, except he camouflaged the Sampler to look and read like a book.

How to Camouflage

Once you know the medium your prospect recognizes, likes, and believes:

a) Borrow the format.

This will help your promotion look familiar to the prospect.

The Sampler looks like a book because it was published before the internet took root (circ. 1995), when physical mediums (e.g., books and newspapers) were among the only recognized, credible sources of written information.

b) Borrow the words and tone.

This will help your copy sound familiar to the prospect.

The Sampler sounds comprehensible, colloquial. It uses simple words — not medical speak — to convey clear, concise advice that makes sense to people. And that brings us to the final principle …

3. It’s valuable.

That’s why people trust it.

Bencivenga packed the Sampler with advice that can help people live more comfortable lives:

  • On page 14, he shares a juice recipe that treats asthma.
  • On page 15, he shares a tonic recipe that quells cigarette cravings.
  • On page 16, he shares a cocktail recipe that relieves leg cramps.

In fact, almost every page lends a valuable suggestion, something that makes the reader feel excited about the future, hopeful. Something that makes her say, “Wow, I had no idea …” Over time, these feelings compound and intensify in the reader, engendering trust.

“Couldn’t it be that if someone took care of you, very good care of you; if this person would do anything for you; if your well-being was his only thought: is it impossible that you might begin to feel something for him?”Bob Benson, Mad Men

How to Deliver Value

Once you know what your prospect values:

a) Highlight it.

This, again, will ensure that the prospect sees it.

The Sampler is full of bolded, italicized, and underlined words and phrases. It’s full of headlines and subheads, sidebars and images. Remember, people can’t begin to draw value from information if they never even see it.

b) Make it clear and concise.

This will fill the prospect with hope and excitement over her newfound knowledge.

The Sampler uses clear language and short, crisp sentences. Even though it’s a medical book, a native English speaker will comprehend every word. Remember, people will only get value from information they understand.

c) Make it actionable.

This will satisfy the prospect, making her happy.

The Sampler tells readers what to do but also explains how to do it. For example, want to treat asthma? “Blend two ounces of onion juice with two ounces of carrot juice and two ounces of parsley juice, then drink this blend twice each day,” writes Bencivenga. “Of course, use this remedy in conjunction with proper medical treatment.”

Remember, people will get the most value from information they can put to use.

“So, what did working with Gary teach you?” I asked.

“Well,” said Pat, “like many other tests I was involved in, it proved the power and importance of copy.”

I nodded, silently, on the other end.

“When we launched new titles, we always tested two or three different copywriters, “ said Pat. “Sometimes the different approaches were close, within 10 percent. But sometimes, it was a 100 percent difference in response rate. That’s what it was with the Vest-Pocket Sampler. That’s the power of great copy.”

How to Get New Clients at Every Stage of Your Business

Posted by dohertyjf

I remember when I first went out on my own to build my business. Because I planned to bootstrap the product into existence, I needed to pick up some consulting work to cover my own bills before I felt comfortable taking time to build my product.

I had a sizable group of peers that I contacted to let them know that I was no longer with my last company and was looking to bring on a few new clients. Within a week, I had to stop taking introductions because I was so busy! If you’re a brand-new freelance consultant, this post has some goodies for you.

I have other friends who are purposefully freelance consultants with no current plans to scale beyond it. In fact, they’ve resisted these opportunities because they enjoy what they’re doing so much, and are able to charge a premium for it. This post will help you out.

Some of my friends are at a different stage. They’ve worked for themselves for 3–4 years or longer now and are growing an agency beyond themselves and their own skillset. Along the way, of course, they’re figuring out the challenges of growing headcount and types/sizes of clients while they themselves learn to level up as a CEO, as a manager, and as a sales executive, since agency founders are often the salespeople for the first few years of their company’s existence. The client acquisition strategies change. This post is also for you.

And finally, agencies often decide that they are ready to expand beyond their main core offering and offer tangential services that they are either being asked for actively or where they perceive an opportunity exists. Since they already have a functional and maybe even (wildly) profitable services business, how can they justify taking time away from that to build out a new service offering? The mindset and strategies change once again. We’ll get into some of those.

Building a service-based business is hard

Over the last two years, I’ve worked with over 150 agencies and have seen over 800 businesses (it’s probably closer to 1,000 at this point) looking to hire an agency or consultant. I’ve also worked in-house, as a solo consultant, and for a quickly growing boutique digital agency.

After the experiences I’ve had seeing everyone — from new scared-out-of-their-wits solo consultants all the way to long-established agencies looking to grow their practice — I decided to take a step back and reflect on the strategies I’ve seen both work and not work for consulting entities at different stages of growth.

That’s what we’ll cover today. If you’re a new consultant, an agency looking to level up the size of your accounts, or an agency looking to move into new service offerings, you’ll find something in this post for you.

Along the way, you’ll hear from consultants and agency owners at different stages of their business and what they did to get to where they are currently. After all, war stories are way more fun than “here are x steps you can follow to also be amazing” anecdotes.


New consultants

Tell me if you’ve seen this happen before: a friend is tired of their job, gets laid off, or otherwise finds themselves unemployed. They decide that they’re going to give freelance consulting a go.

Three months later, they’ve taken a new job at a new agency and are repeating the cycle they went through before.

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Sound familiar? If you’re in the digital marketing consulting world, you likely know at least a few, if not closer to a dozen people where this has held true.

I’m not going to say that everyone goes back to traditional employment because they’re having a difficult time getting new clients, but this is far and away the largest reason I see. They get a few months in, they have too few clients paying them too little, and so they panic and go take a job doing what is comfortable. They’ll repeat the cycle in a few years again.

I get it. The beginning of working for yourself can be terrifying. I’ve been there. Saw a therapist, got the t-shirt, am I right?

What if I told you that you could avoid this if you really want to? That you could use some proven techniques to get new clients that pay you what you’re worth?

Overcoming common “new consultant” fears with strategic thinking

You’ll hear entrepreneurs who have built and sold their companies (sometimes multiple times) tell you to take a “burn the ships” approach, where you set off and don’t give yourself a time limit or an out if you can’t make it work.

The problem with this is that it’s a fallacy brought about by survivorship bias — defined as “the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility.” Often these entrepreneurs look back and talk about how they could have done it, or how they did it for their second or third business once they’d already made quite a bit of money.

Quite simply, if you want to set yourself up for success, you should already have replaced (or have a clear path to replacing) your income from your day job before you even go out on your own.

You can do this by picking up freelance work on the side from your day job. Get one or two clients that pay you every month and learn how to manage those. Learn what it takes to retain these clients and even grow the accounts.

Next, figure out the minimum amount of money you need to make every month while only working the number of hours you want to work before you take the leap. If you have two clients, you can probably get two more pretty easily. If you spend 10 hours a week on these two clients and only want to bill 30 hours per week (which is actually quite a lot), then you know you can bring on four more clients at the same level (and fewer clients if they pay you more) and have the lifestyle and income you want.

It’s simple math.

The “new consultant” sales mindset

Clients come to solo consultants instead of agencies for a very specific reason. They want direct access to your specific brain and to be able to speak with the person actually doing the work. In fact, I’ve seen many companies come through Credo who need multiple services (not just strategy) across organic and paid, but they don’t want an account manager setup like they’ve had before with an agency.

This, plus your experience, is your competitive moat. During the initial discovery call with every potential client, don’t forget that you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. You need to learn:

  • What they are specifically looking to accomplish through retaining someone’s services;
  • What their expectations are for how quickly they will see this;
  • If they have resources to get done what you recommend, or if you have time to implement what they need;
  • Whether they’re willing to pay you what you are worth.

Assuming all of these check out, then in my opinion, you’re good to move forward with the proposal process.

A quick word on pricing

If you’ve never worked for an agency before, you should ask agency friends or other freelance friends what they charge per hour, then use that as a benchmark. If you want to raise your rates, then do it slowly with new clients until you hit a ceiling. Now you know your price ceiling for the current services (whether strategy, implementation, or both) you offer.

New client acquisition channels

Now that we have the common fears identified and you’re armed with a better sales mindset, let’s explore the strategies you should leverage first to build your consulting practice to a base where it sustains your lifestyle and you’re able to remove the stress of starting from the equation and eventually think about growth.

The strategies I always counsel brand new solo consultants to use are:

  • Referrals – Ask your circle of professional peers if they know anyone looking for what you have to offer;
  • Referrals – Ask your friends and family if they know anyone that might need what you’re offering;
  • Agency white label – Approach agencies in your area to see if they need help on a contract basis with their clients;
  • Teaching – This is a longer-term play, but a great way to get clients in the long run is to teach others how to do what you do. I’ve seen it hold true that if you teach people how to do what you do, they’ll want to hire you to do it for them.

These are the easiest and most direct ways to get introductions to potential clients who are highly likely to close into clients.

Long-term this does not scale, but it can get you to the point of covering your expenses, allowing you to breathe a little bit and invest for the future. And if you’re smart about it and haven’t signed yourself up for 60+ hours per week of billed work, you can have a great life balance.

To give some real-world examples, I reached out to two of my friends who became solo consultants in 2013/2014.

First is Tom Critchlow, who went solo in late 2014 after two years at Google New York. When asked how he got his first consulting clients, Tom said that his first leads came from direct referrals from a friend:

“Since that first lead I’ve gotten about 80% of my clients through referrals from my direct network,” he shared. “I’d definitely emphasize the importance of a strong network and ensuring that you’re communicating with your network often to keep them up-to-date with what work you’re doing.”

Next I chatted with Michael King, who has since built his agency iPullRank into an industry powerhouse, and asked him how he got his first clients when he left the NYC agencies he worked for. To get his first, he shared that thought leadership played a huge role:

“My first two clients came through two different methods of thought leadership. One came via a post I’d written for Moz about content strategy, and the other came from a panel I spoke on. Overnight, I went from 0 to 10.5K MRR.”


Solo consultants happy staying solo

If this is you, then congratulations. In my mind, you’re finding nirvana in a lot of ways.

Solo consultants with more years of direct consulting experience are able to charge good hourly rates and monthly minimums from clients, according to my data.

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Once a consultant has survived the initial push to get new clients, the journey is far from over. In fact, many solo consultants have come up against this and gone through droughts where they were between projects.

This brings up the question: How can solo consultants, who can only realistically bring on a limited number of clients before they become too numerous, keep a strong potential client pipeline?

Define your niche and build processes

The answer is usually to tightly define your niche and then, depending on your niche, to build processes to deliver high quality work.

High-touch strategic consulting does not scale. It also does not have to scale if you charge a high hourly rate ($300/hr for strategic consulting that drives large revenue increases is not crazy, and may even be too low), in which case you can work with just a few clients and still create a great income for yourself.

When you’ve defined your niche, whether affiliate marketing driven by content or local SEO for realtors, then you put together the strategy to reach them.

This should go without saying, but if you’re asking how to define your niche, then you aren’t ready to be a highly paid solo consultant yet. Hone your craft and discover who you love to do work for, then go serve those customers on your own.

Once your niche is defined, you can focus on that group.

Targeting your ideal audience

As mentioned above, the toughest part of being and staying a solo consultant is managing your workload and saying “no” or “not yet” to potential clients, while at the same time protecting your downside should a client decide to stop your services for any reason, whether your fault or because of internal actions.

The best solo consultants that I know, who also have a strong pipeline of potential clients, have built this through:

  1. Content. They produce content related to their target market’s problems and thus become a thought leader in that niche. This will often lead to recurring columns in industry publications.
  2. A strong referral network. They know the who’s who of their niche and are their go-to when someone needs the consultant’s specific skillset.
  3. Speaking. Getting a one-off or set of speaking engagements in front of your target audience often directly drives potential clients and cements you as an expert in their minds.

The goal is to build your own name as an expert so that you consistently have potential customers approaching you to see if you can work with them, while also knowing your limits and when you may next have available time.

The goal isn’t to magically be able to get new inquiries when you need them (though this may happen if you’ve built this system), but to be able to go back to a group of people who have already inquired about your services and tell them that you have some availability. A pro move is also to ask if they know anyone who may need your services, as well.

Creating processes

Not every consultant desires working with large clients who each pay the equivalent of a full-time salary. Some consultants prefer working with smaller clients, mostly small or local businesses, because of the unique challenges that these clients face.

In this case, the challenge is to work out how you scale quantity without sacrificing quality or client retention. There are many ways to do this:

  • Find an agency or group of consultants you trust that you can outsource certain parts of the project to;
  • Leverage technologies like HubSpot, Moz, or others that allow you to automate a lot of the work;
  • Use tools like HubSpot, Calendly, UberConference, or others to help scale scheduling and admin parts of the business;
  • Use virtual assistants, bookkeeping services like Bench, and payroll services like Gusto to alleviate a lot of the business operations so you have more time to work for clients.

As Francois Marcil of Ehook.co shared:

When you have over 10 clients, the time spent attending meetings is the biggest obstacle to serving all your clients well. For this reason, I reserve 2 days of the week for meetings and 3 days for work. The rule is strict, and I inform my clients from the start.”

When a solo consultant sets up these processes, it not only makes their life a lot easier and their clients happier (which leads to better retention, which leads to a healthier business), but it also sets them up for success should they decide later that they want to start an agency. In this case, their processes of both acquiring and managing new clients will let them generate the cash flow needed to make the leap to employing someone full time.


Agencies leveling up

Some business owners don’t feel the need to constantly push and grow their business. They’re bootstrapped, their business affords them and their employees a great lifestyle, and they have no desire to take on more responsibility with their business. If this is you, then I’m a bit envious and encourage you to enjoy it.

If you’re anything like me, though, you’re never happy with maintaining. You always want to be growing, to be learning, to push yourself and your business to see what it’s capable of. If you’re on this course, then keep reading.

Your strategies have to change a bit when you go from being a solo consultant to growing your agency. A lot of your processes are going to break or need tweaking as you grow the number of people working on accounts. Your challenge now becomes managing the growth of your headcount while maintaining quality and bringing in great new clients at the same time.

This is likely way too much for one person to handle, so at some point you’ll be forced to decide what you are great at (and love doing) that is also instrumental to the business’s success. Then hire out for the rest.

Let’s focus on the sales part, of course.

At the beginning of your journey as a brand-new consultant, you were likely heavily dependent on one-off referrals from family and friends. But referrals don’t really scale.

As you’re looking to grow your business quickly, your channels have likely shifted to:

  • Speaking. If you have a dynamic founder who is a keynote-level (or heading in that direction) speaker, this can be great lead generation;
  • Strategic partnerships with investors or other agencies;
  • Your own search traffic and thought leadership on your own website;
  • Your own advertising of your services online.

You’re facing the unique challenge of increasing the quantity of potential clients contacting you while not sacrificing quality. While difficult, this is absolutely possible. You can grow your revenue by:

  1. Targeting new clients who have similar traits to your existing ideal clients;
  2. Growing accounts by upselling your existing clients to other services you offer that they need;
  3. Defining a specific niche or type of company where you get outsized returns, and then target them specifically through content, speaking, education, or both.

Sales changes as you grow. You’re looking for long-term sustainable clients as it is four to ten times cheaper to retain and grow your current clients than to get new clients (source). If you’re investing in landing new clients, you should not also have to worry about retaining your current clients. If you are, then you are simply refilling a leaky bucket and you will not grow.

Michael King of iPullRank is no stranger to the challenges that agency founders face as they grow, but he’s successfully transitioned from solo consultant to now managing seven figures in agency income. So what does he do differently?

“The difference is really that it’s far more dire,” he shared. “The maintenance of payroll becomes the battery in your back to have to just figure it out. Whereas when you’re by yourself and you have a low month or you lose a client, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Johnathan Dane of KlientBoost credits lessons he’s learned about sales along the way in growing KlientBoost from himself to $4M in revenue in just a few years:

“We’ve been very fortunate to have 99% of our sales come from our content, and when that happens, our sales cycle is drastically reduced because the potential client already likes us and has found value from what we’ve given them,” he said. “So even 2.5 years in, I still handle the inbound sales — which I know isn’t scalable — but you gotta allow yourself to still have some fun.”

I should also note that at this point, you should have someone dedicated to sales and onboarding new clients full-time. This can be filled by the founder if the founder is stellar at sales, but most often I see this role being given to a dedicated sales executive who hopefully also has marketing experience, or has proven their aptitude for learning and applying it so they sell the right work.


Agencies moving into new service offerings

At some point, you may max out your growth in your current niche and with your current offerings. At the same time, you want to continue growing but don’t have the option of increasing client budgets. Or, maybe a new platform emerges (think: Snapchat) that has the opportunity to be big and you want to be an early mover in helping your clients get exposure.

But moving into new niches is hard when you’ve established yourself in another service offering and that’s how you’re known. Every agency has a primary service offering, so how do you move into new niches?

There are two main ways:

  1. Think of this new service offering as a startup in and of itself. It is responsible for its own profit and loss (P&L), as well as landing its own new clients;
  2. Upsell your current clients into this new offering as well.

This is hard. Brandon Doyle of Wallaroo Media, who went from being a generic SEO agency to leading the way in travel marketing and Snapchat from their offices in Provo, Utah, knows this firsthand:

With a background in SEO, we strongly believed in its ability as a channel,” he shared. “We utilized SEO and evergreen content to carve out a name for ourselves both in the travel space, and more recently as a leader in Snapchat-related content, strategies, and news. The latter paid off, as we were just recently named an official Snapchat Agency Partner!”

Will Critchlow, CEO of digital marketing agency Distilled (full disclosure: I used to work for Distilled), also knows a thing or two about moving into an adjacent vertical. The agency recently become recognized for not only SEO, but creative content and outreach services, too:

“All our moves have come from the passion of the team,” shared Will. “Team members saw an opportunity, started doing part of the solution, and pitched the rest.”

Finally, your marketing will change as you seek traction in this new vertical. The topics you write about, the people you reference, the outreach you do, and the places you choose to interact will necessarily change.

This is specifically why I recommend tasking someone specifically with building out this new area. At Wallaroo, this was Brandon. At Distilled, this was Mark Johnstone who was previously an SEO consultant who had an interest in big creative content and Tom Anthony with an interest in technical A/B testing for SEO.


Conclusion

Consistently generating new potential projects at every cycle of your business’s growth is the best skill you can learn as a services business owner.

Leave a comment about the channels you’ve found to be the most effective!

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Does Your Digital Marketing Agency Possess These Building Blocks?

Digital marketing agencyYou want that next product launch to hit the ground running. Unfortunately, you can’t do it alone. You need help. The right digital marketing agency can provide invaluable support, while providing that all-important roadmap to getting your product in front of your audience. The wrong agency will leave you hanging, looking for answers and needing to start over. 

So, how do you choose between a long-term partner versus one that’s only in it for themselves? To answer this question, here are some of the critical building blocks that your digital marketing company must have.

1. A Complete Solution

Steer clear of a digital marketing agency that is unwilling or unable to provide a total solution. If your goal is to improve your go-to-market strategy, then work with a digital marketing company that can take your product through market introduction all the way to market adoption. This means choosing a digital marketing firm that can redesign your website, optimize separate landing pages, improve your social media footprint, launch engaging email marketing campaigns, make your website mobile-friendly, and perhaps, most importantly, one that can create a content marketing plan that engages and motivates your audience.

  • Review Their Portfolio:  These should be clearly visible on their website. You should be able to review what the agency has done for other companies. Focus on how they’ve taken a concept and turned it into an actionable plan that led to results.
  • Ask for references:  Ask to speak to some of their customers. Avoid trying to speak to competitors and look for companies in similar situations to yours. How did the digital marketing agency work with them? What was the plan and how was it enacted? Finally, how were results measured?  
  • Match Their Value Proposition to Your Needs:  It must make sense for your company. Avoid working with a marketing agency that forces you to adopt an approach they’re comfortable with, but you aren’t. There are several agencies that want to shorten the time it takes to bill your enterprise. This means they stick to what they know best and not necessarily what’s best for your company.

2. A Clear Vision for Your Company and Market

The best agencies understand that they must be actively involved in each aspect of their clients’ digital marketing plan. The goal is to provide a clear vision for your company. 

How does all this fit together? How will a website redesign help your company? Will search engine optimization (SEO) strategies be required? Are you looking to increase website traffic and grow your business through paid search, or solely by organic search? Do you only want to focus on this one product, or do you want to revamp your entire approach to market and improve your company’s online reputation? 

Your digital marketing company should show you how each part of the strategy will lead to increased returns. Ultimately, it’s about having a customized solution, one where the focus is on improving your returns with a strategy that increases customer engagement. Success means your chosen agency lays out an inbound marketing plan and then takes you through that plan step-by-step. 

Digital marketing agency

3. The Ability to Adapt and Change

Digital marketing works because altering course is so much simpler and faster than strategies of the past. As time goes by, circumstances, goals, and plans may also change. Adaptability must be a hallmark of any digital marketing agency you choose to work with. In fact, change is expected. Digital marketing is a continuous process, one where strategies are launched and feedback gathered. That feedback and data is disseminated and analyzed to confirm if the strategy is working or if changes are required. Data enrichment is one part of the solution, but knowing how and when to alter course is another. 

By all means, insist on key performance indicators (KPI) and discuss how you’ll track click-through rates (CTR) and conversion rates – but don’t get bogged down in the “here and now”. Instead, insist on a go-to-market strategy you can track and choose a long-term partner who can lay out how that strategy will work. 

Are you looking to better understand your competition, your customers, your market, and most importantly, your own position in your market? If so, contact us now and request an assessment.