Have you wondered how your colleagues are able to find clients with a snap of a finger the minute they have a gap in their schedule? If so, you’ve probably wondered how you can do it too…

It turns out there’s no real mystery to it, it just takes having the right strategies at your fingertips for those “gulp… I have no work lined up! Now what?!” moments.

Before we get into our favorite ways to get clients in the door pronto, it’s important to resist the temptation to start a blog, set up a sales funnel, grow your Twitter following or your email list, or optimize (fiddle with) your website…

Don’t get us wrong, we teach all those things for a reason – they’re all part of setting up a client attraction system and to create leverage in your schedule and income consistency in the long run… but they don’t work like a magic bullet.

Realistically there’ll be times when you just need to get work lined up, like, yesterday… so for the times you need to find clients fast, you need a short game too. 

Read on to discover five free and easy ways we’ve used to find clients fast… 

1. Tap into your personal network

This is the lowest hanging fruit but don’t underestimate its power. Your friends, family, and colleagues want to support you, so make sure they understand what you do and the types of clients you’re looking to attract.

Reach out to them and give them your elevator pitch! Tell them you’re looking for clients and you need their help (you would be surprised how helpful people can be when you just ask).

Then – and don’t skip this important step! — ask them to take a specific action. 

For example:

  • “Do you know of any [description of your ideal customer] who [has the problem you solve]? I’d really appreciate an introduction!”
  • “Would you be willing to share my website link on social media and ask your followers to contact me if they [have the problem you solve]?”

2. Put your “connectors” to work

Reach out to your “connectors” and get them on a 1-1 call or invite them to coffee or lunch.

Who are the “connectors” in your life? You know the ones: they’re always in charge of organizing events and parties and spend their time at those events introducing people to one another. They love creating connections.

They’re also people who are very well connected themselves: they know everybody. Reach out to them, give them your elevator pitch, and tell them you’re on the hunt for clients.

Again, ask them for help and don’t feel shy about that because this is what they live for. Their brains will start spinning with ideas about who they can connect you with.

If you’re in close proximity, invite them out for lunch. I can’t tell you how many clients I landed in the early days of my business by just inviting my connector-pals out to lunch and buying them a sandwich.

3. Find your industry allies

Reach out to people who work in complementary fields who also work with your target customer.

One of the fastest ways to get your dream clients in your pipeline is by forming a referral network of allies you can collaborate with or with whom you can refer clients back and forth.

As a designer just starting out, I also bought a lot of sandwiches for developers, copywriters, marketers and public relations professionals. This led to quite a lot of referrals and collaborations too.

When I moved abroad, I used Zoom to schedule “let’s get to know one another” meetings. People who don’t know you well may not trust you with a client referral, but getting on a video chat is a great way to form a real human connection and establish trust.

If you feel shy about this, approach it in the spirit of service. You’re helping their business by getting to know them so you can refer your clients to them too.

People are generally very open to these types of pitches and bonus – you might just make a new friend.

4. Share the results of your work

Share the results of your work on social media. You can also ask your clients to share the story with their followers too.

Don’t be afraid to shamelessly self promote and brag and boast when you get results for your clients! When people see real-life examples of the outcomes you create for others, that’s one of the best ways for people to instantly “get” your WHAT you do and WHO you do it for. 

5. Get in front of someone else’s audience

Before you have a large audience of your own, look for ways to get in front of audiences that are already established. Identify influencers your target customer is likely to follow and offer to write a guest blog post, be a guest on their podcast, or do a joint webinar.

If you don’t have a Facebook group of your own, find ones where your dream customers are likely to be and introduce yourself (again, elevator pitch) and be helpful. Answer questions and point people to resources you’ve created and let them know you’re available to help them further if they want to DM you for more details. 


Even if they don’t, keep in mind that lots of people in these communities are just “lurking” and may want to learn more about your services when they see you have expertise in an area they need help with. That means make sure your profile is optimized to make it easy for people to find you. 

We hope you found this helpful! If we missed something or you have other ways to find clients fast that work for you, let’s help each other in the comments!

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So you’ve been hearing all the buzz about “value ladders” and wondering whether you need one? Or how to set one up? Well, you’re in the right place my friend, we’re going to walk you through all of that and more! But first, a definition:

What is a value ladder? A value ladder is a lineup of offers that increase in price and value in order to meet people where they are on their journey to become a customer: from initial awareness to their final decision to buy your premium offerings. It’s an effective way for you to build trust and maximize the lifetime value of each customer.

The way it works in a nutshell: you start off by offering something of value for free and then increase the price and value with your subsequent offers.

They’re usually discussed in the context of sales funnels and it can sometimes sound like: “get as much money out of ’em as possible for as long as you can!”

But a business’s first imperative is to get and keep customers, and when you do that, the revenue will follow. So when you’re planning your value, be sure to make your customer’s experience the primary focus.

A value ladder, when executed correctly, is actually interlinked with your brand strategy.  Your lineup of offers is used to build trust and ultimately, inspire brand loyalty. In other words…

You use a value ladder to get and keep customers

Before we get into the details about how to create a value ladder, let’s first take a look at how this all works from the perspective of your customer.

Why You Need A Value Ladder

It’s easy to forget that most of your customers who see your marketing messages aren’t going to sign up instantly. There’s no magical formula that can persuade someone to whip out their credit card and purchase a premium offering if they’re just not ready.

Enter… the value ladder.

It’s a way to meet people where they are in their decision-making process and readiness to commit to a purchase. So let’s talk about what that looks like…

Your customer’s decision-making process to make a purchase

The goal of your brand strategy should be to communicate the reasons why customers should choose you instead of all their other options.

Along the way, your job is to provide value and earn their trust in order to help them make that decision.

(Also known as marketing.)

From your customer’s perspective, the journey looks like this…

When businesses forget that potential clients are going through this process, they do things like drop a bulleted list of capabilities on their services page with a “get a quote” button and call it good.

Which, for all of the people who are just beginning to become aware that they maybe-possibly need help, sounds like this:

“MAKE A DECISION NOW! DO YOU WANT TO HIRE ME? YES OR NO!!!”

Kind of awkward on a first encounter, right?

A value ladder, in contrast, takes prospective clients by the hand from the very first interaction and walks side by side with them as they grow to trust you.

A value ladder guides your clients toward purchasing your premium offers by providing them with smaller offers along the way

Visually, then, it looks something like this…

Customer decision-making process & offers that meet them where they are.

Now, their journey and your offers aren’t always going to line up perfectly like this. For example, people in the consideration phase may sign up for a free offer. But here’s the key takeaway:

Having different offers at various price points means there’s something for everyone.

A little sneak preview for ya here (I’ll get into more detail when we talk about how to create a value ladder), but what we’re essentially going to do now is take the idea of creating different offers as part of the customer journey, and then rotate the customer journey funnel onto its side. And voila! Now it looks like a ladder.

Neat, right? 🙂

A Basic Value Ladder

The ladder is a great metaphor because as you can see, now we can visualize how we’re going to create offers that will increase in price and value and naturally lead from offer one to the next.

The Benefits of a Value Ladder

A value ladder focuses on solving a problem your client is grappling with and gives them options to solve that problem based on their readiness to commit and their budget.

Because you’re the expert, you’ll design service offerings that give them the outcome they desire.

This approach is very different than reacting to a potential client who rolls up and tells you what they think they need and asks you for a quote. They’re not steering the ship here, you are, which is why figuring out what to include in your offers takes a bit of upfront work.

But the advantage is that for you, there’s no recreating the wheel figuring out what each and every potential client wants and preparing time-costly proposals–instead, you’ll be identifying the problem(s) in advance and have solutions to offer them all ready-to-go.

Because it’s your process, and because you’re presenting it like a product (you’re selling whatever is needed for them to get that outcome), you’ll be perceived as the go-to expert rather than an order-taker. And when you do that, it’s easier for people to understand. They’ll come to you to follow your process because you’re offering the outcome they want. Make sense?

Have The Flexibility to Upsell and Downsell Your Offerings

Once you have the steps of your ladder in place, you’ll upsell along the way.

For example, when people buy your low-priced INTRO offer (also known as a tripwire), you can pitch your LEAD offer as a next step. Then, you can present your BULLSEYE premium offer and so on.

You can also experiment with the order!

For example, you might offer something for free — let’s say a webinar — and then pitch them on your highest-ticket offering.

For those customers who don’t buy your high-ticket offer, you can “downsell” by offering them an INTRO or LEAD offer instead. (Which can be set on autopilot with automated follow-up email sequences.)

By having different offerings at varying degrees of value, you’ll have something to offer people based on what they need and how much they’re willing to spend.

Earn The Trust of Hesitant Customers

A tripwire or low-cost offer helped me win clients who were interested in my premium 1-1 services.

I found that 10% of the people who purchased a low-price offer (a $30 eBook) went on to sign up for thousands of dollars in services. In those cases, they were interested in hiring me (closer to the “decision” phase), but they wanted some final reassurance that if they trusted me with their dollars, I’d deliver value.

So they grabbed one of my low-priced offers to “vet” me. Interesting, right?

Here’s where it gets even more interesting…

The price of that product was $30.

When I calculate the lifetime value of a customer who does 1-1 work with me, it works out to about $3,600 per customer. (Some are a few hundred bucks one-and-done and some are tens of thousands over years.)

So for a small investment in my time to create a simple eBook, I’m able to shortcut the time and effort it normally takes to earn the trust of a complete internet stranger and potentially for life. Which is far more than $30, it’s more than 100 times that! (Results will vary of course, but I did want you to see the big picture.)

Not only that…

A Value Ladder Extends The Lifetime Value of a Customer

Because you’re incorporating different offerings into your lineup, you have the potential to extend that lifetime value.

An introductory or low-price offer (which should be a digital product of some kind) can actually be quite profitable and generate an evergreen passive income stream.

A lead service (which I’ll get to in a sec) can help you recapture all the time that slips through the cracks pitching your services to people who are just kicking tires and are never going to get there.

The way I like to think of these initial steps in your ladder is they’re a way to monetize your sales and marketing and leverage your time (so you have more of it to fine-tune your processes and make passive income products!)

You can also extend your premium services by creating “loyalty” offers!

Hopefully, by now you’re chomping at the bit to get started, so let’s get into it…

The Value Ladder

How to Create a Value Ladder

There are many ways to go about it, but here’s a formula you can use to create a basic value ladder. Some value ladders have three steps and some have eight, it really all depends on what you’re offering.

If you offer more than one service line–for example, say you offer web design services and social media management, you would create a separate value ladder for each.

The Value Ladder

Step #1 Free Offer

Definition: The purpose of the free offer is to generate sales leads. Once you’ve identified your ideal client’s problems, you’ll demonstrate your expertise (you’re the one to solve it) by helping them solve their problem (5-10% of the way) with a free offer.

Ground rules: It has to be valuable. Your free offer is going to take the place of you getting on a sales call with them to demonstrate you’re trustworthy and an expert at solving this problem. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be valuable, quite the opposite.

Examples: Blog posts, a free e-book, checklists, swipe files, worksheets, how-to videos, audio exercises, a free introductory course, a webinar, etc.

This is how you’re going to get people to your website, but keep in mind that as people are going through their decision-making process and figuring out whether you’re the one to trust, it may take interacting with your brand 10-15 times or more before they’re ready to commit.

Having free content as an incentive to interact with you isn’t a magic sales bullet, it’s used to build trust. Make it valuable and focus on solving their problems, and when they’re ready to commit with dollars, you’ll be the one they turn to…

This is called reciprocity.

The idea is that when you’re providing value for free, your audience will begin to feel grateful for your help and even indebted to you. When deciding who to choose, they’ll be much more likely to go with you because you’ve already helped them solve their problem part of the way for free.

Step #2 Intro Offer

Definition: An intro offer is a low-priced offering that solves the problem a little bit more than your free offering

Ground rules: Again, it must be valuable. You’re still nurturing trust and establishing yourself as the go-to expert. Make sure it solves a specific problem and you’ve clearly articulated the outcome they can expect when they purchase it. The price should be set somewhere between $7-$49. Important: it should not require your time working 1-1 with clients.

Examples: eBook, paid workshop/webinar, an email challenge, a mini-course

Your intro offer isn’t designed to make a profit, but rather, to offset the costs of creating it and promoting it. The goal is to create a customer as quickly as possible so you can lead them to the next step, which is…

To learn more, we have an entire blog post devoted to setting up an intro offer (or tripwire) right here.

Step #3 Lead Offer

Definition: Your lead offer requires a larger financial commitment but it includes a much greater value. Here, you can begin offering 1-1 services that require your time, or, if you’re selling digital products, it will be a higher-priced offering than your tripwire but still less than your high-ticket offerings. This offer should be designed to be profitable.

Ground rules: Focus your lead offer on a specific outcome or “quick win” you can give your clients.

It must solve a problem and not create one. For example, if you’re designing a 1-1 service, an “audit” creates problems (“here are all the things you need to fix, have fun!”) whereas a road mapping or strategy session solves one (“here are your biggest opportunities and next steps”).

You should strive to create a service that allows you to replicate the process you’ll guide your clients through (no re-creating the wheel). This way, you can become better (more expert at solving this problem) and more efficient (and more profitable) the more you do it.

Things to consider:

  • What aspects of your process are you currently doing for free that you can monetize instead?
  • Is there an aspect of your larger high-ticket services you can “break apart” as a first step?

Examples: Road-mapping session, a done-for-you playbook or strategy, an introductory course, 1-1 coaching/consulting to achieve a specific result

Step #4 Bullseye Offer

Definition: A bullseye offer (or a “core offer”) is something we go into more detail about in The Bullseye Offer Formula, but basically this is where you pull out all the stops and do whatever you need to do to solve your customer’s biggest problem.

Ground rules: It should be priced based on the value of the outcome and really, the sky’s the limit. It’s your process and ideally, should utilize your zone of genius, the expertise you want to become known for. It must also be something your dream clients already know they need.

Examples: This is a high-priced offer–either a more comprehensive course or done-for-you 1-1 services.

Guiding people to a bullseye offer is where most people call it good, but to maximize the lifetime value of a customer, you can also create a…

BONUS (Step #5): Loyalty Offer

Definition: A loyalty offer extends the value of your signature offer by offering ongoing or ancillary services and digital products that continue to help them solve their problems.

Ground rules: Your loyalty offer provides you with ongoing revenue and allows you to create an ongoing relationship with your customers. These may be priced lower than your signature offer, but extends value over time.

Examples: Ongoing done-for-you services, a mastermind group, weekly group coaching calls, private paid Facebook group or slack channel, a membership site, subscription-based content, additional digital products, and courses to help them continue on their problem-solving journey, annual workshops or retreats.

Variations to Your Value Ladder

Again, the above is just an example to get you thinking about offering value along your customer’s journey. Every business is different and you may find that creating three steps is enough: maybe a freebie offer, an introductory offer, and a premium or signature service offering.

Maybe you’ll want six or seven steps in your ladder. You might decide to create two or three signature offers and a value ladder for each. Maybe you won’t have a signature service at all, maybe it makes more sense for you to create multiple introductory offers and then get people right into a loyalty offer.

Inside our course, we walk our students through the four key steps of the value ladder as a starting point, starting with the Bullseye Offer. Once you know where you’re leading people to, it becomes a “no-brainer” to create a logical, related line-up of offers that lead people to your premium 1-1 services.

Value Ladder
Create a bullseye offer first, then your lineup of offers

In summary

A value ladder helps make marketing your services easier. It allows you to earn trust, scale your business by increasing the lifetime value of a customer, and move away from selling your services like a commodity.

A commodity has no differentiated qualities; a brand is the opposite of a commodity and focuses on the value you can provide your customer. So in a way, the value ladder is just a framework for you to build your brand.

By creating different degrees of value-based offers corresponding where your customers are at in the decision-making process, you’re not only better positioned to get and keep clients but to maximize profit and lifetime customer value as well.

If you have any questions, hit us up in the comments and be sure to grab our FREE value ladder planner below!

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One of the most frustrating aspects of running a creative or consulting business is the amount of time wasted writing custom proposals.

If you’re offering any kind of client service that starts with “How much would it cost to____?” and your answer doesn’t come instantly, you know exactly what I mean…

Hours and hours spent doing a dog & pony show for anyone who requests a quote only to be ghosted… ouch.

In this post, I’m going to share my secret for getting off that hamster wheel with a lead service instead.

But first, tell me if this sounds familiar…

The Problem with Responding to RFPs & Creating Custom Proposals

For years I squandered my most valuable business asset (my time) jumping through hoops trying to convince people to hire me…

Only to find out that all they really wanted was to “get a sense” of how much they should expect to spend if they decide to go forward with their plans.

I call these people “tire kickers” which sounds like an insult, but consumers should be able to kick tires before they buy.

The problem is in the process: when there’s a variable scope of work, there’s no quick and easy way to quote a price.

And then there were the Requests for Proposals (RFPs)… ooof.

It took me a while to figure out that some of the more challenging RFPs were written by people who didn’t know how to go about it, so “played it safe” by copying and pasting from big corporate or governmental RFPs.

The result is RFPs that are overly complex and demanding to respond to, taking exponentially more time than necessary with no guarantee of work.

Some were rigged against me from the start, which I realized when a big nonprofit organization wanted to hire me for a gig but they were required “go through the motions” and issue a public RFP…

All the other poor suckers didn’t have a chance, and that rang a big huge bell for me.

One particularly excruciating experience was a proposal process with a “big fish” client that lasted for an entire year:

  • Back and forth emails
  • Phone calls
  • Project research
  • Soliciting quotes and recommendations from subcontractors
  • Schmoozy lunch meetings
  • A proposal that took me a week to write

To make matters worse, all that work I put into courting them informed an RFP they issued at the 11th hour, despite months of assurance it was “in the bag” for me.

In the end, I “came in a very close second place” to a larger firm and lost the gig (which was the equivalent of an annual salary).

I was done.

The opportunity cost of investing all of that time to benefit someone else’s business rather than my own was a game of chance more costly than I could afford.

I knew there had to be a better way go to about this and that’s when everything about my business took a huge pivot for the better.

It was then that I decided to create a “lead service”… one that would allow me to get compensated for all the value that’s provided during the initial steps of the process of any project.

What is a Lead Service?

A lead service is one that allows you to monetize the discovery process while providing standalone value to your clients. It discourages tire kickers from picking your brain for free and frees up your time so you can invest it in your own business rather than someone else’s.

A lead offer (1-1 service) is part of a larger value ladder — which is simply a series of offers that increase and price and value. The lead offer is the step that comes right before your more premium offers, whether those are value-based, fixed packages or custom engagements.

The Benefits of a Lead Service

1. Helps Establish Clear Client Boundaries

Of all the steps of the value ladder, the lead offer is my favorite and I think that’s because I sometimes have a hard time setting and enforcing boundaries with clients.

I’ve always struggled with responding to people who ask me to meet with them to “pick my brain” … I want to help! 😩

Honestly, if I could just help people all day long without having to worry about how I’m going to pay the bills I’d happily give value away for free all day every day.

But that’s not the world we live in and it’s no way to run a business. #truthbomb

If I’m spending my time (my “product”) on behalf of a potential client and helping them solve business problems, I deserve to be compensated.

So do you.

My lead service was the first steps of working with me packaged up with a fixed price and scope of work.

That means I can quickly move the conversation from “Can I pick your brain?” to “Absolutely! I have the perfect thing for that — here’s more information about [insert service name here]. Let me know if you’d like to move forward and I’ll send over next steps.”

No more…

  • Awkward conversations and feeling like I’m being put on the spot…
  • Feeling resentful about people expecting me to invest my time for free…
  • Worrying about whether all that time will even lead to a paying gig…

Just a simple back and forth and it’s all prepared in advance.

They either see the value and say “let’s do this!” or they don’t… either way, there’s no more risk of time spent without compensation.

2. Creates a Better Client Experience

We go into this in more detail in The Bullseye Offer Formula, but here’s the thing: good clients want you to lead them through your process. They appreciate that you’re prepared and have the steps for “how it works to work with you” all laid out in advance.

It may feel a bit ungenerous at first if you’re used to doing free consultations prior to signing up a client…

But it actually signals to your potential clients that you’re professional, you know what you’re doing, and you’re here to run a serious business. And that can only instill confidence that you can help them with theirs.

3. Attracts Higher Quality Clients to You

Bad apple clients who are only interested in “picking your brain” aren’t going to appreciate this and that’s okay. They can go kick someone else’s tires — you’ve got an empire to build.

Great clients expect you to charge what you’re worth, set boundaries around your time, and demonstrate you know your value.

4. Frees Up Your Time to Work on Your Business (Rather Than Just in It)

Rather than re-creating the wheel with each and every client, your time can be much better spent working on your business.


Take this email exchange between me and a client as an example of what I mean…

They were interested in hiring me to rebrand their online presence to prepare for a big upcoming launch. 61 emails were exchanged over a two-week time period and about a third of those were written by me.

Let’s break down the math…

Say those 20 emails took me 15 minutes each to write. That would have amounted to 5 hours of my time spent in the sales process.

FOR FREE.

This is something we normally chalk up to “the cost of doing business” but there’s usually a LOT more time slipping through the cracks than most business owners realize.

In order to recoup that cost, I’d have to build it into their costs and let’s face it, that’s not always so easy to do when you’re working with price-sensitive small businesses, especially if you have a lot of low-balling competitors.

But I didn’t spend five hours answering their questions. I had a lead service to offer them!

This cut the back and forth to a short conversation — I kept directing them to the lead service where I would address the advice and recommendations they were asking for.

This saved me five hours of my time in this one client conversation alone.

So think about…

  • How many of these back-and-forths do you have each month?
  • What is that costing you?
  • What percentage of those pre-sales conversations result in paid work?

In the end, this client didn’t hire me — they went with someone cheaper. And that’s perfectly okay, but what they didn’t get to do is take advantage of my brain stuff and pass along my expertise without paying for it.

I quickly got in and out of the discussion and spent my time doing things that benefited my business.

5. Helps You Scale Your Business Without Growing a Team

When you’re running a small service-based business, your most valuable business asset is your time. Unless you have a dedicated business development person on staff, recreating the wheel with custom proposals or responding to RFPs is likely going to be your biggest business expense.

Even though it’s not costing you in dollars, it’s costing you time.

By monetizing the sales process and charging for your discovery process with a lead service, you’ll immediately get cash flowing in when working with new clients.

The time you free up can then be invested in streamlining your processes (to make them more profitable!), adding passive streams of income (as part of your value ladder!), building a client attraction system (a.k.a. marketing), and even leveling up your skills so you can charge more.

Ground Rules for Creating A Lead Service

1. Free Advice Belongs in the First Rung of Your Value Ladder Only

I provide as much free value as I can in the form of blog posts, emails, tips I share on social media, free masterclasses, and so on. This is the first rung of your value ladder or the “top of funnel” content and it can include anything that allows you to serve 1-many rather than time spent 1-on-1.

  • Email newsletter
  • Podcast
  • YouTube videos
  • Social media posts
  • Blog posts
  • Webinars
  • Free courses
  • Lead magnets
  • Public speaking
  • etc.

Free value is how we market our businesses and establish our expertise, but it isn’t a very smart thing to give away to one person who may or may not ever reciprocate that value (in the form of payment for your time).

That means I no longer offer free consultations, respond to RFPs, or build custom proposals for clients and I invite them to take the first steps with me by purchasing a lead service instead.

But there’s a trick to this because they won’t see the value in paying you for discovery or consultations that your competitors probably do for free…

2. A Lead Offer Must Provide Standalone Value

It’s not enough just to start charging for something you’ve always offered for free in the past… you must describe it and package it so your potential clients will see the value.

That means you must solve a problem with your service.

If you just charge for a gab session to explore possible solutions or “how it works” you’re actually creating a problem: they’re no further ahead but their wallet is a bit lighter.

That’s why I don’t recommend things like “assessments” – for one, they’re a tough sell (even though they can be incredibly valuable). Nobody really wants to buy a summary of all the stuff they’re doing wrong or need to fix.

What we want to buy are solutions.

So think about how you can create something that feels tangible that moves their piece forward on the board…

Maybe that’s a…

  • Plan
  • Checklist
  • Roadmap
  • Playbook
  • Blueprint

And this is key: it must contain value whether your client takes the next steps with you or signs up for your more premium offers.

3. Fixed Scope & Timeline

Once you have your lead service figured out, you want to do as much upfront work as you can to “fix” the scope of work as well as your time.

At first it may take you a bit longer and it may take a bit of experimenting. Some things to think about:

  • What scripts need to be prepared? (What will you say to “pitch” your lead service to people who ask you for a quote?)
  • What steps will you ask them to take to initiate the work? (Will you need to write up instructions? Create a contract? Set up a calendar for scheduling?)
  • How will you respond to objections and questions? (What can you create in advance for this? Think FAQ sheet or “How it works” document.)
  • Will you need any templates for your deliverables?

The more you can “templatize” in your process the more efficient you’ll become (and more profitable!).

In Summary
If you’re looking to scale your service-based business and get away from the time-sucking custom proposal process, a lead service can help you better leverage your time while creating a better experience for your clients.

Will you implement a lead service? If you have any questions hit us up in comments!

And don’t forget to grab our value ladder planner below to brainstorm ideas for creating your lead service as well as the other offerings in your value ladder. 🙂

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The goal of every online business is to attract and convert customers in order to make sales, but with ad costs on the rise and algorithm changes making it harder and harder to reach them, what worked a few years ago just doesn’t work the same way today. 

And as more and more people are starting online businesses and competing for your customers’ attention, and as platforms increasingly expect you to  “pay to play”…

The question becomes, “What still works to drive sales that a small business can even afford?” 

The tactic that’s remained consistently reliable (with no signs of slowing down) is hands-down running email promotions. Considering that the average ROI for email marketing is $36 for every $1 spent, that makes it the best investment of your marketing dollars around. 

If you haven’t adopted an email promotional strategy yet, it’s not too late to start! Think of it this way…

Ad costs will always fluctuate, and getting organic traffic to your offers isn’t going to get any less competitive. Relying exclusively on social media or SEO means the costs and opportunities to sell things to people will largely be out of your control… 

But your email list is something you do control. It’s not Facebook’s audience or Google’s user base – it’s your list. You control the costs and how frequently your audience sees your messages. 

In this post, we’re going to cover:

What is an Email Promotion?

An email promotion is a series of emails (usually 2-6 but sometimes more) that you send to your list over a specific time period in order to promote a deal(s) or special offer. 

While marketers often use the term “email promotion” in the context of using email to promote something that’s free (e.g. a webinar or a challenge) or to re-engage subscribers

In this post, we’ll be focused on using email to make sales. Around here, if we’re talking about “running an email promotion” what we’re talking about is:

  • Offering something specific and special to our subscribers 
  • Sending out a predetermined number of emails 
  • With a start and end time and date (usually 5 days or less)
  • For the purpose of generating $$$ 

How to Create an Email Promotion Calendar and Hit Sales Targets

The last thing you want to do is leave things to the last minute when it comes to email promotions because there are a lot of moving parts and they take time to plan and put together. 

Whether you run promotions every week, month, quarter, or just once or twice a year is totally up to you, but you want to schedule them in your calendar, plan ahead, and give yourself deadlines to create everything you’ll need, including: 

  • The “hook” or theme – the reason for offering it (e.g. celebrating a holiday, flash sale)
  • The emails needed for each day (2-6+ emails each with a different angle and building upon the previous email to guide your readers toward a purchase) 
  • Mockups of your products, bundles, bonuses, etc. 
  • A sales or checkout page ready to go*

*Since this is your “warm audience” and you’ll be sharing lots of information within your emails, you don’t necessarily need to rely on a long and fancy sales page to do the selling as much as you do with a cold audience. We often use a simple ThriveCart checkout page when promoting something to our list unless we already have a long-form sales page created.

To give you an idea of how we approach our email promotion calendar:⁠ ⁠ 

Start by setting sales goals 

First, we start with an annual income goal. Setting a specific number is what drives our plan for the entire year. ⁠

Then we set an income goal for each month, with every month building upon the previous month. For example, we may need to make $25k this month, so next month we aim for $30k.⁠ ⁠ 

If we’re not on target at any point, we get creative and run an email promotion to get our numbers up. We might run a flash sale or create a bundle of products to offer at a special price for a limited time. ⁠Basically, we do whatever we need to do to hit our goal at the end of each month.⁠ 

We call these… 

Evergreen Promotions

Evergreen Promotions can be run as needed and they’re invaluable when it comes to helping us hit sales targets. We think of them as a way to “turn on the money faucet.” 

If there’s no specific holiday that makes sense to use as an excuse to show up with sale pricing, we create our own – all you need is a creative “hook”!

But we also commit to a certain number of… 

Seasonal Promotions

Every quarter we create a plan for a seasonal promotion for the next quarter. 

A seasonal promotion differs from an evergreen promotion in that it gets locked into our calendar with a hard deadline and utilizes a date-specific occasion as our “hook”: a holiday, observance, or celebration.

Think Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, celebrating back to school and so on.⁠ 

⁠Because they’re seasonal and not just done “as needed,” this is income we factor into our strategy for hitting annual sales goals and setting our priorities for the quarter too.

(Do we need to create a digital product or a bonus? Do we need to write blog posts and freebies on this topic? Do we need a sales page? ) 

You can plan seasonal promotions a year in advance if you want to, but our approach to planning them just one quarter ahead of time gives us the perfect amount of flexibility to pivot throughout the year if we need to while also allowing us plenty of time to pull the promo together. 

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Black Friday as a special case when it comes to seasonal email promotions. This is the biggest opportunity of the entire year for an online business to run a promo and make sales. During this period, your customers will be watching their inbox for the biggest and best deals of the year and they’ll be ready with their wallets open waiting to buy things at a discount. 

If you’re able to offer discounts, a Black Friday promotion can not only give your fourth-quarter sales a huge boost, it can often make your year. And it’s not just limited to a one-day flash sale… 

Hot on the heels of Black Friday are the days that follow it: Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday – all opportunities to extend the promo period and keep the celebration going for multiple days. 

We’ve also learned that if you time it just right, launching new products during this time can be very effective too… 

Our most successful promotions introduced a new product on Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday. We offered two new products for a special price only to our subscribers and donated a portion of sales to a charity.

Since this was an exclusive “early bird” deal, we had a lot of people raising their hands which meant we were able to follow up with our customers to get their feedback and testimonials. This helped us immeasurably with sales and conversions going forward. 

If you decide to run big seasonal promotions like Black Friday, break down what you need to do, create, and write and spread those tasks out over a couple of months for a stress-free promo and then kick back, relax, and watch the sales come in.

Planning an Email Promotion

Here are some of the things to decide when planning an email promotion: 

What will you offer?

Will you offer multiple items or just one product or service? Do you need to create a new package or bundle or add a bonus to make your offer more enticing?

How will you create urgency?

Will you offer a discount? A bonus? A limited time package or bundle?

What’s the theme? 

What will your “hook” be? Introducing a new product? Celebrating a milestone? Observing a holiday or season? 

Who will you send it to?

Will you email your entire list or only certain segments? 

For example, you’ll want to exclude people who’ve already purchased and may want to leave out people who opted in to a freebie that’s not at all relevant to your offer. 

Why? Too many promotional emails sent to the wrong people (who are not a good fit for this offer) will only cause them to unsubscribe — when the reality is, the next promotion might have been the perfect fit! 

How many emails will you send and over how many days? 

This is something you’ll want to experiment with but as a good rule of thumb, it typically depends on the price and complexity of your offer: the higher the price and the more information your audience needs to make a decision, the more emails and time your promo will need.

What types of emails do you need?

Since you’ll essentially be promoting the same thing for a number of days, you want to think about how all of your emails are going to work together… 

There will be some common elements to each email (e.g. what’s included, how much it costs) but each email will need to have its own angle – what works for one person isn’t going to work for another.

In other words, one day you might just cover all of the features and benefits in detail and the next, you may want to include testimonials or answers to common questions and objections.

Psssst, no need to take notes, just grab our free Email Promotion Planner & Tracker. All of these tips will be there for you when you’re ready.

Creating a Promotional Email Sequence

Now we’re ready to get into the nitty-gritty of how to build a series of emails that work together to guide people to a purchase, are you ready? 🙂 

At this point you’re probably getting excited about the possibilities of using email promotions to generate revenue – it’s a proactive, affordable, and proven way to build your business… “Sign me up!” 

But you probably still have a lot of questions about what types of emails to write, how many, and exactly when and how frequently to send them – we definitely did in the beginning and it’s totally natural (it’s not intuitive!). 

It took years for us to wrap our heads around exactly what goes into setting up an email promotional sequence that drives sales, but no worries, that’s why we’re here and we’re about to break it all down so you don’t have to rely on trial and error. 

We’ve invested countless hours analyzing all sorts of campaigns and experimenting with our own too, and we’re about to share with you exactly what we’ve learned. The good news is, putting together a profitable email promotion is simpler than you think! 

Alright, now this is going to sound weird, but… 

We want you to think about your series of promotional emails like a sandwich. 🥪. 

First, you need two slices of bread as the foundation:

→ 1. An announcement email
→ 2. Last call email

Let’s take a deeper look under the hood so far… 

The Announcement Email

An announcement email is the first email in your sequence and lets your audience know all about your promotion and gets them excited about it. 

It should include a description of who it’s for, what’s included, the price, and the deadline for taking advantage of your offer. 

Your announcement email can be short or long, and here’s how to decide… 

Short announcement: Short and sweet is the way to go if you’re planning a promotion that lasts for 4 or more days and you just want to give your readers a “heads-up” that you’ve got something exciting planned over the next few days. You’ll give them a little teaser, tell them to watch out for your next email, and give them a link to a sales page that has all the details.  


A long “kitchen sink” announcement: If your promotion is 3 days or less, your announcement email will need to work a lot harder so it needs to be longer and more detailed and include every possible thing they need to know about the offer without needing to click on anything. See the following example…

Announcement Email Example:

Email Promotion Example

The announcement email kicks off the promotion. Then, to wrap up your promotion you’ll need… 

The Last Call Email

You might have heard the term “cart close” when you hear marketers speak about funnels and launches. It’s one of those jargon terms that used to intimidate the heck out of us, but then we realized that anybody who’s selling something online (whether a product or service) can do a “cart close”… 

It simply means that your deal or offer will end at a specific time. That’s it.

It doesn’t mean you have to stop selling it or that the thing that you sell actually is going away for good, it just means the promotion is ending. 


Think about it like this: the cart is closing “at this price,” “bundled this way, “with this bonus,” etc. 

The reason why we need a “cart close” is that your promotion needs an end time or there won’t be any incentive for your audience to take action.

We call it a “last call” email. That is, “this is your last chance to take advantage of the deal” (whether for now or forever). It’s a reminder to your audience that the offer is about to expire and it’s your one last chance to pitch it to them. 

Because of the urgency that’s baked in, it’s almost always the highest-converting email in the series. 

It should include enough details about the offer so even if this is the first email your reader has opened, they’ll have all the important information. So at a bare minimum that means:

  • How long they have left to take advantage of the offer 
  • A recap of the features and benefits
  • A final call to action

For promotions that last more than one day, you’ll send the last call email in the morning of the last day with an optional final reminder “it’s going away” email sent a few hours before the cart closes (that last one should be short and simple). 

Last Call Email Example 

If you have an announcement email and a last call email, you’ve got everything you need to open and close a promotion so you can now run a 1- or 2-day promo. These are perfect for “impulse purchase” offers (<$50 + no-brainer value). 


A longer promotion is needed if you have something higher-ticket or new. 

In this scenario you’ll want to send out one email per day for 3-6 days so you have time to warm up your audience and give them the information they need to feel confident purchasing and give them time to consider the offer. 

For that, we’re going to need some ingredients in the “middle of the sandwich” and you can get creative here! 

There are no rules about what you need to include on what specific day, but again, you want to come at it from different angles because different members of your audience will respond to different things.


These are a few themes that work: 

  • Relate: demonstrate that you understand what they’re struggling with and how they feel, that you know what they desire and what’s standing in their way
  • Social proof: Share stories of other people who’ve gotten the results they desire, testimonials, or case studies
  • FAQs: Answer frequently questions to help them overcome objections
  • A Bonus: Introduce a bonus that will help make solving their problem even easier 

Mix and match these angles and don’t sweat it if you don’t have what you need to do one type of email… just pick a different one! 

For example, if you don’t have testimonials or case studies yet, use a “relate” email instead of a social proof email. If you don’t have a bonus, answer frequently-asked questions and so on. 

Example Email Promotions 

Here are a couple of examples of how this might all come together… 


Example #1: The One-Day Promo


Needed: Announcement email + Last call email (2 emails, 1 day)

If it’s a very low-ticket offer (under $50) you can run a 1-day flash sale and send out two emails: one in the morning to announce it and one at the end of the day to remind people that the offer is expiring in a few hours. 

This is a basic “bread sandwich” promo but just because it’s not stuffed with extras doesn’t mean it isn’t appetizing for your readers. Some of our one-day flash sales featuring low-ticket offers have generated between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars!* 

*Note: income results will vary depending on the size of your list and the relevancy of your offer – so always be list-building and creating freebies that will attract the right people onto your list! 

These tiny promos work because they’re “grabby” deals that we know will help a large segment of our audience (the value is a huge no-brainer) and they’re offered at an impulse price point. 

And, because it’s just one day, there’s a huge sense of urgency which is the key to a successful email promo: urgency, urgency, urgency.

Got that? Urgency! 😉 

Example #2: The 5-Day Seasonal Promo

Needed: Announcement email + 3 middle emails + 2 Last Call emails (6 emails, 5 days) 

This is a longer promotion and we generally reserve them for a specific holiday, seasonal observance, or special occasion. 

We include several yummy “middle of the sandwich” emails with one email going out for four days and then two emails on the final day. It looks something like this… 

  • Day 1: Bread 1: Announcement
  • Day 2: Yummy stuff: (e.g. pain points, goals & desires, a transformation story they can relate to)
  • Day 3: Yummy stuff: (e.g. success stories, case studies, testimonials, results expressed as data)
  • Day 4: Yummy stuff: (e.g answers to frequently asked questions, overcome objections)
  • Day 5: Bread 2: Last Call, Final Reminder

If you want to get fancy, you can mention a bonus you haven’t told them about yet on the second-to-the-last day to really trigger FOMO (fear of missing out). 


4 Types of Email Promotions Ideas to Try

Here are some examples of email promotional themes you can use as your “hook” (the reason you’re showing up in their inbox)… 

Flash Sale

You’re probably already familiar with flash sales – this is all about offering a discount on either one featured product or multiple products. Here are a few additional ideas:

  • Deal-a-day: A different product or collection is featured every day for X days
  • Everything is on sale for a flat discount using a coupon code for a limited time
  • All the products on a specific landing page are on sale from X%-XX% off 
  • An exclusive bundle at a one-time-only price 

Holiday & Seasonal Email Promotions

You already know about the big shopping holidays and seasons for retailers – Black Friday, Christmas, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Back to School, etc. but you’re not limited to those! 

While it can be an advantage to run promos during these time periods because customers often “wait for sales” and will be on the lookout, it can also be worth experimenting with lesser-known and less competitive holidays such as “the first day of spring” or “customer appreciation day.” 

Evergreen Promo

Evergreen promotions can be run anytime but you’ll still want to get creative and give it a theme. You can introduce a new product, create a special bundle or package, add a bonus, or invent your own special occasion – e.g. “I’m celebrating my 10,000th subscriber!” or  “It’s the 3rd anniversary of [Company Name]!”  

Early Bird Product Release

One of the easiest ways to launch a new product is to introduce it to your subscribers before you make it available anywhere else. Since this is your warm audience, they’ll be more likely to consider something new without a lot of fanfare than someone who’s never heard of you before. You might offer it at a special price exclusively for them or throw in a group coaching call (which doubles as an opportunity to get their feedback!) or other limited time bonus. 

9 Power Tips for Running High-Converting Email Promotions

Here are a few tips to follow based on our lessons learned to help you make your email promotions a success! 

Tip #1 – Have Confidence in Your Offer

To achieve the best results with your email promotions, you must continually remind yourself that if you’re not behind this promo 100% (if you’re worried you’ll annoy people or that nobody’s going to buy), then nobody else is going to get jazzed up about it either.

Generating enthusiasm and urgency is key. When you write emails that are infused with confidence, you bring your audience on board! 

For the best results, make sure you have someone whose opinion you trust read your emails before you send them to your list to see if they have questions or if they feel excited to buy.

This way, you’re able to “get out of your own way” and make sure you’re not letting any limiting beliefs stand in the way of really going all-in. 

Tip #2 – Optimize Your Email Subject Lines

Subject lines have the power to make or break your entire campaign. If you can’t convince people to click, they won’t be reading your email. 

To increase your open rates and get more people reading your emails, don’t treat your subject lines like an afterthought. 

Take a bit of time to make sure they inspire curiosity, make a promise that (by opening your email) you will deliver on, leave something to the imagination, and are short and fun rather than long and formal.

Because this tiny copy can make or break your campaigns, be sure to read 4 Ways to Create Email Subject Lines that Get Noticed & Clicked.

Tip #3 Answer “WIIFM?” 

“WIIFM” is your customer asking themselves,“What’s in it for me?” Why should I read this email? 

Make absolutely sure you’re answering that question with every paragraph (no fluff!) because when you’re about to ask for a sale, this is not the time to wax philosophical. 

Stick to what they need to know: 

  • What is it? (Focus on features and benefits)
  • Is this for me? (Or someone else?) 
  • Why do I need it? (What’s the result they can expect if they buy?) 
  • What do you want me to do? (Make it clear) 

Tip #4 – Make it Visual & Easy to Read

Nobody likes to be hit with big long scrolling blocks of text they have to wade through. Readers want to skim and scan your email to quickly figure out if it’s for them and worth their time reading the details more carefully. 


The easiest way to do this is to break up big blocks of text by using subheads, short paragraphs, bulleted lists, emojis, mockups of your products, calls to action buttons and the secret sauce… bucket brigades.  

What is a bucket brigade? It’s a phrase that encourages people to keep reading. 

Let me give you an example… 

☝🏻See what I just did there? That’s an example of a bucket brigade. You read, “let me give you an example…” and wanted to read the next sentence, didn’t you? 😉 


The next time you read a promotional email you devoured from start to finish, watch out for phrases like this, you won’t be able to unsee them once you learn to master this copy secret… 

  • But here’s the catch…
  • And as if that’s not enough…
  • Just think about it like this… 
  • What does that mean for you?
  • And best of all…
  • Now you might be wondering… 
  • But wait, that’s not all… 
  • By now, you might be asking yourself… 
  • The good news is… 
  • Let me tell you why:
  • As it turns out… 
  • What we’ve learned is… 
  • To put it in plain terms… 

These tiny phrases are a great way to break up your copy and keep people easily reading down the page. 

Tip #5 Make Sure Your CTAs (Calls to Action) are Unmissable

One of the most important things to remember when sending promotional emails is to make it absolutely clear what you’re asking your audience to do and make it so easy there’s no way they can miss it. 

Remember, people are busy and they don’t always read every single word – more likely they’re skimming the page to get the gist of it and then trying to figure out, “Okay, what do I do next?”

That’s why we recommend including your CTAs (hyperlinks and/or buttons) throughout the body of the email as well as the end and here’s why…

Some people will click on a “buy now” link in the first paragraph, some are ready to click by the time they get to the middle, and some will wait until the very end. 

We usually also include one final CTA in the post script (“PS – Don’t miss out! Click here to take advantage of this special price available until midnight EST tonight!”)

Why? Isn’t that obnoxious? Can’t argue with you there 😂, but if you want to make sales you do what’s proven to work, right? Some people (especially if they’re already aware of your offer and have been considering it) will skip over all the copy and get right to the nitty gritty – and the bottom of the email is where they’ll scroll to first. 

If they’ve got to hunt down your CTA chances are they’ll get frustrated and won’t bother. When you think about it like that, you’re not being a salesy pest, you’re actually making things quick and easy for your customers. 

Tip #6 Give Your Subscribers the Option to Opt-out 

When running a larger multi-day email promotion, you can retain subscribers who are interested in you and in future offers but “just not this one” by providing them with an option to opt-out:

“If you don’t want to hear about our X promotion over the next few days, click here to opt-out of X emails and stay subscribed.”  

Lots of people will take you up on that and that’s… okay! 

Even if you invite them to opt-out, be prepared to lose subscribers when running a multiple-day campaign. It happens. 

But ask yourself, “Were they ever going to buy something from me anyway? Or were they just here for the free stuff?” 

What’s more likely to happen than losing an actual potential paying customer is that someone who didn’t check their email all week will write to ask you if they can still get in on the deal after it’s over. 🙂 

Stay focused on all the people you’re helping who really want to be a part of your community. 

Tip #7 Be Prepared to Make Changes to Your Email Promo Mid-stream

⚠️ First, a warning: You might be tempted not to send that final “last call” email… you may worry that you’ll only lose subscribers and annoy your audience. A rule of thumb here is to resist that temptation but there are exceptions, and that’s what we want to prepare you for now: 

Here’s what we’ve learned in running dozens of email promotions over the years… 

The first day sales are going to be your most loyal fans… they’re usually your repeat customers who can’t wait for you to run a promotion so they can open your email and buy the minute it lands in their inbox. 

The middle days are for everyone else who needs a bit more time to consider. Sales will usually trickle in a bit slower in the middle days. 

The last day is usually when we get the largest volume of sales after we send out the final reminders. 

So… if your first day sales are good, don’t chicken out! Definitely send “the offer is expiring in a few hours” reminder email! 🙂 

That said…

When to Cut a Promo Short
Now, if you’re getting lackluster sales right from day 1, you can make a determination and decide to cut the promo short (send fewer emails) if you want to. We’ve done this. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out the way you hoped. 

Because we value our audience’s attention and don’t want to blow it, we might cut some of those middle emails out and leave just one final last call email for the last day. 

And this is okay! You’re learning what works and what doesn’t and becoming more intune with what your audience wants and needs, which is all good intel for you – you’ll knock it out of the park the next time. 😉 

Tip #8 – Urgency, Urgency, Urgency 

This is the most important tip so take note! If you’ve ever tried running email promotions in the past or if you’ve ever sent out an email and expected sales only to get a disappointing trickle of people buying…

It’s probably because there was no (or not enough) urgency in your offer. 

URGENCY is by far the most important factor in getting people to buy during your campaign. Without it, it’s just information they can act on “when they have more time to think it over.” 

(When was the last time you “had more time”?)

The easiest way to create urgency is to discount the price for a limited time but it’s not the only way! You can also… 

  • Create a bundle of products at a special price available only for a limited time
  • Host a group coaching session for those who buy before a certain date 
  • Offer a bonus product that’s only available during the promotion
  • Do a fundraiser and donate a portion of each sale to a good cause if they buy today

Tip #9 Analyze & Track Your Results

As you start getting in the groove of running email promotions you’ll want to analyze how things went so you can get better and better the more you do this. 

After your campaign has ended, be sure to archive your entire email sequence and keep track of a few basic stats…

  • How many emails you sent and over how many days
  • Total sales
  • Open rates (note each subject line – what worked to get people clicking?)
  • Click-throughs – how many people clicked to view the offer
  • Conversion rate – divide the # of people who clicked by the # of transactions to know how many people converted

Once you have this intel, you might decide to…

  • Run this same or similar promotion again (eg. next year) because it was so successful 
  • Send out a “second chance” campaign to people who didn’t open your emails (especially if the conversion rate was high but open rates were low – try different subject lines!)
  • Turn it into an automated email sequence that gets sent to new subscribers after a period of time

What happens during your email promotions will give you a tremendous amount of insight into what your audience needs and responds to so you can double down on those things. 

They’ll tell you which direction to go and may even help you to “let go” of things that aren’t working. 

An email promotion is also a good way to test your offer with your audience before investing in advertising dollars!  

Don’t forget to grab our Free Email Promotion Planner & Tracker before you go!

Conclusion

So there you have it. In this comprehensive guide we’ve covered all the essentials you need to know about running a high-converting email promotion. With a little planning, a dash of urgency, and the right offer – email promotions are a way to generate revenue for your business both when you need it and seasonally for a boost of sales. 

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Are you selling 1-1 services to clients and want to grow and scale your business? You’ve come to the right place! In this post, we’re going to give you the roadmap from trading hours for dollars to scaling your income beyond your time.

But first, there’s an important distinction we need to clarify and that is…

The difference between a freelancer and an entrepreneur

We think Seth Godin defines it best:

“A freelancer is someone who gets paid for her work. She charges by the hour or perhaps by the project. Freelancers write, design, consult, advise, do taxes, and hang wallpaper. Freelancing is the single easiest way to start a new business.”

Entrepreneurs use money (preferably someone else’s money) to build a business bigger than themselves. Entrepreneurs make money when they sleep. Entrepreneurs focus on growth and on scaling the systems that they build. The more, the better.”

Which one are you? Which do you want to be? Maybe it’s not clear?

The reality is, that “entrepreneur vs. freelancer” is not an entirely black and white thing. You can be one, or the other, or something in between…

  • Some freelancers aspire to evolve into entrepreneurs 
  • Others want to reach higher (paid) levels of freelancing

Seth Godin describes himself as a “freelancer” despite being a top marketing authority and author of countless books everyone in his niche can quote by heart because he still “does the work.” 

The goal for an entrepreneur, on the other hand, is to no longer “do the work.” (That’s not for everyone and that’s… ok!)

For example, we know many service providers who find immense pleasure “in the doing” and have no desire to stop doing those things – but that does NOT mean you can’t scale your business.

We actually consider ourselves hybrids — something in between. We love helping people 1-1 and rolling up our sleeves and doing the work, but we also make money while we sleep. 😉

(What can we call people like us?  Maybe Freelancepreneurs?

This is the journey from serving 1-1 to 1-many

Whether you aspire to be an entrepreneur or simply to add passive revenue streams to your “done for you” services in order to scale, there are four distinct stages self-employed business owners must go through. 

In each, there are common characteristics, problems, objectives, and opportunities. What you need to focus on to level up to the next phase will depend on which stage you’re in. 

Let’s dive in so you can see where you’re at and how to move forward… 

Stage 1: Explore

In the explore stage, you’re transitioning from conventional employment to working for yourself. Or maybe you’re right out of school and the thought of working for “the man” isn’t an option, so you set out on your own and look for clients rather than a job.

(Just a pause here to say HECK-YEAH-RIGHT-ON-YAY!)

You have marketable skills and expertise and you view self-employment as the path to living life on your own terms.

YOUR CUSTOMER

At the explore stage, your first order of business is to get clients — any clients — who need your skills.

MARKETING

Your first move will be to tap into your personal network and tell everybody about what you do. You also might use a freelance marketplace (e.g. Upwork) or job boards to get gigs.

Once you book your first clients, if you do a great job for them, they’ll tell other people about their experience and you’ll start getting client referrals. 

You’ll start building a portfolio, testimonials, and case studies and that will lead to more work.

But, you’re not in full control of who you attract and you don’t always feel 100% confident you know where your next client is going to come from. Because of that, you say yes to most of the opportunities that come your way.

You probably have some basic marketing assets — social media accounts, a website or portfolio, business cards, etc. But you don’t have much time or energy to do all that much with them. Mostly they exist so you can look profesh and so people have a way to find and get in touch with you.

You spend very little time doing marketing tasks and as much time as you can doing billable work.

PROFESSIONAL BOUNDARIES

At this stage, you may not have strong client boundaries and instead, are focused on making them happy (so you can get referrals). 

You’re likely learning lessons about all the ways clients can test your boundaries and struggling with things like scope creep, texts and phone calls on the weekends, and not getting feedback or payment on time.

You probably commiserate about crappy clients with your colleagues.

YOUR OFFERS

If you are capable of doing it and somebody is willing to pay you for it, you are putting it on the menu and saying yes. You likely have a laundry list of services and deliverables on your services page. You create custom project quotes for each client or you bill by the hour for tasks you do for them. 

Leveling Up from Stage 1 to Stage 2

Get clear about your zone of genius

Start thinking about the work that really gets you into a state of flow. When you’re making money and feeling fulfilled in whatever it is you’re doing — when time seems to fly by — what are you doing exactly? 

This is what we call “the work you’re meant to be doing.” 

Get better at describing your expertise

Think about ways you can be more specific in the way you talk about what it is that you do.

Take a look at your marketing messages and think about the words you use to describe your work with people you meet — then make sure you’re communicating in clear language the type of work you want people to come to you for. 

If you can’t describe it in the time it would take you to travel between floors on an elevator, they’re not going to remember it and come to you when they need it…. so work on that.

Get clear about your ideal client

Think about the clients you enjoy working with most. What are their common characteristics? What about them makes the working relationship satisfying? Then, think about how you can get in front of MORE of these people.

Set boundaries and enforce them, this is important

In order to be efficient and profitable with what you’re doing, “people-pleasing,” “going above and beyond,” and “letting things slide” are not good ways to go about things.

Create good contracts, keep track of what you’re spending your time on and create some rules around that time, and don’t be afraid to say “no” when something doesn’t serve you.

And most importantly: Make time for marketing and market your business with consistency. If you are not planting seeds and building awareness and trust, you’ll never be able to pick and choose who you work with and the type of projects you take on.

Choose a content type: written, audio, video, or visual (whichever plays to your strengths and comes easiest for you) and create as much as you can.

Then, choose a social media platform and share that content consistently. (Check out our Content Calendar System which will help you do that in a fraction of the time)

If you’ve not been consistent with marketing, this is going to feel like a distraction from your billable work — but in order to level up, you need to start putting your own business first on your priority list.

Grab this free download to have tons of ideas you can take action on. 👇

Stage 2: Master

You’ve been at it a while and you feel pretty confident this self-employment thing is gonna work out for you. (Hurrah!) You’ve learned some lessons and you’re starting to think about which direction you want to take things.

CUSTOMER:

You’ve had some experience working with lots of different types of clients and you’re beginning to notice patterns — some of your clients light you up and work feels effortless and others are a pain in the arse and more trouble than they’re worth.

You’re at the stage where you’re starting to get clear about who your IDEAL client is and who you DON’T want to work with. You start recognizing red flags and run the other way when you spot a “bad apple client.”

You may find that you’re most happy working with people from a particular vertical and you start to network with people from specific industries.

MARKETING:

Because you’re getting clearer about who your ideal client is and the type of work you want to do for them, you become more focused with your marketing messages.

You’re creating content designed to attract a specific type of customer and showing up on social media consistently. You also take steps to make sure your content is discoverable in search — whether that means Google, YouTube, Itunes, or Pinterest.

PROFESSIONAL BOUNDARIES

You are beginning to understand that establishing and enforcing boundaries is a huge aspect of doing client work.

You have processes in place, you’ve established policies, and you work with contracts always.

You have a system for vetting clients — you know what questions to ask and what to look for before saying yes to the work.

OFFERS: 

Because you’re getting clearer about the work you want to do and who you want to do it for, you begin creating packages that describe this work. Your bulleted list of capabilities is replaced with more specific offerings.

The way you speak about your work starts moving beyond “WHAT” you do and starts focusing on “HOW” you do it — the benefits of your offers and the special sauce you bring to the table. You create a unique value proposition.

Leveling Up from Stage 2 to Stage 3:

A lot of freelancers make a respectable living in stage 2 – in fact, you might coast here for quite a long time before even thinking about making a change. 

Just a word of advice about that: it’s easy to get stuck in the “it ain’t broke, so why fix it?” trap. 

Remember things can EASILY change out there — your competition can change, your marketing platform algorithms can change, and you may find yourself in a situation where what always worked before doesn’t work anymore. 

Make marketing a priority.

Even if you’re so busy you think you don’t need marketing.

Create a clear vision for your future

This is a stage where burnout can easily creep up on you. You get busy reacting to what’s in front of you and get stuck on the feast or famine roller coaster.

If you’re not steering your business ship toward work that fulfills you, you may wake up one day and your exciting self-employment adventure feels more like a job you’d rather avoid.

If you feel BLAH, uninspired, exhausted, or you’re questioning what the heck you’re even doing, this is just a signal that it’s time to level up and everyone goes through it.

You may invest in courses and books and coaches to try to find your way forward and get unstuck — and while all of these things are good, and can even help you get the clarity you need, ultimately it will be up to YOU to take the leap.

What we’ve found is that people get STUCK trying to find answers outside themselves rather than having a good, honest gut check and accepting what’s not working and creating a clear vision for the future. We’ve seen people circle around themselves for YEARS

Get outside your comfort zone

Moving past your stuck points at this stage requires doing some serious mindset work and getting comfortable with going outside your comfort zone.

Think about the things you need to let go — whether tasks (yes, it’s time for you to hire a VA), clients, service offerings, or something else. We all do things that aren’t serving us anymore (it’s a moving target!), and leveling up is as much about recognizing that as adding new strategies and tactics to the mix.

Most of all, work on feeling confident in your highest value — really get to the bottom of what that is, and when you do, OWN IT.

Stage 3: Expert

This is one of the most EXCITING stages of being self-employed. 

When you’re ready to move past being an order taker and doing anything you’re capable of doing for any-ol’-body and start designing service offerings that attract the right people to you to do the right work, you’re in the EXPERT stage.

You are focused on getting to the bottom of where your HIGHEST value is so you can create offerings that will reward you personally and financially.

You begin to design your marketing, offers, and messaging around your ONE THING: that one thing you want to get famous for. And people start coming to YOU because for them, there can be no substitute — it has to be you.

This means you are finally operating in your zone of genius which means you’re fulfilled in your work and able to command more money in less time.

YOUR CUSTOMER

You are VERY specific about your target customer and you know everything about them. You know what keeps them up at night, you know what they desire, and you know what they need.

When you create marketing messages, you speak directly to them — you speak to their pains, obstacles, struggles and you talk about the transformation they want too… and you’re the one to help them get it.

MARKETING

Your marketing gets more focused and you’re connecting the dots between your content and sales.

You create a system to attract clients on autopilot, and they come to you because you have the solution they need and you’ve been building trust at every step of their journey.

You’re creating sales funnels that guide people to your offer using conversion tools like webinars, email sequences, and free courses.

You feel confident you know your client pipeline will always be full and marketing becomes soooo much easier because you’re focusing on your strengths, the people you want to attract, and the offers you’re guiding people to.

The content you create revolves around establishing your expertise and building authority: you might write a book, host a podcast, write guest articles in high-profile publications, run webinars, and/or give speeches.

You move beyond social media and focus hard on building your email list because you know this is where trust and sales are won.

OFFERS

You narrow down your service offerings so you’re exclusively operating in your zone of genius and switch from hourly to fixed/value pricing. You create systems and processes so you’re becoming more expert and more profitable the more you do this work.

No recreating the wheel with each and every client and no spending time doing custom proposals or doing the long, drawn-out sales process of back and forth emails and free discovery calls. You have a bullseye offer and people come to you for it.

You stop trading dollars for tasks and start selling solutions and pricing those solutions based on their value, not time spent.

At this stage, you may create a product (digital course, book, etc.) to not only attract high-ticket clients as a low-risk way to take the first steps with you but to make passive income.

You may reinvest that additional revenue in larger-scale marketing campaigns or growing your team — you’re thinking like an entrepreneur now and foregoing short-term gains in order to scale.

PROFESSIONAL BOUNDARIES

At the EXPERT stage, your business is your #1 client. You know that every minute you spend serving clients 1-1 that you are not being compensated for is an opportunity cost for your business… so you stop giving things away for free.

You spend that time instead on tasks that help you grow, scale, and create consistency such as improving your processes, training your team, and creating marketing systems that keep you moving toward making more money in less time.

You’ve got crystal clear boundaries in place and you know how to enforce them. You feel empowered to say NO. A lot. And you do.

And once you get a taste of being more in control of your business? You might not want to stop there… 🙂

Leveling Up from Stage 3 to Stage 4

In order to transition from serving clients 1-1 to scaling your business by creating 1-many services and digital courses and products, it’s imperative that you become very protective of your time — you will need it so you can devote a large percentage of your time to marketing and product development.


Grab our free Value Ladder Planner to help you rock the Expert stage!

Stage 4: Scale (Entrepreneur) 

At the SCALE stage, you’re ready to stop trading hours for dollars and move from serving 1-1 to 1-many. If you do continue 1-1 work, you now charge much more for less time spent

You’re focused on creating systems to become more efficient and profitable, and you’re pivoting to selling more 1-many programs and/or digital courses and products. 

CUSTOMER

Your target customer MAY shift here, and you’ll likely need a strategy for reaching more than one audience.

You’ll find that a client who wants a done-for-you or done-with-you service and is willing to pay a premium price is not the same customer who’ll sign up for a course or group program so they can learn how to do it themselves. 

At the scale stage, you’ll need to recalibrate your thinking about your target audience and marketing strategies to reach more people.

MARKETING

By now you’ve fully embraced the fact that strategic marketing is where you must put a large % of your time and attention in order to scale. 

Your focus moves toward paid traffic, product and/or service launches, and setting up evergreen funnels. Your focus is on authority-building (getting famous for your one thing ramps up) and building your audience and visibility online and of course, your email list.

By this stage, you’ve got a pretty great marketing machine already in place, but you’ve got some gaps you need to fill and you’ll actively seek out programs or experts to help. 

You’ll focus heavily on watching your numbers and optimizing every step of your funnel to maximize conversions and margins. 

OFFERS

You’re continuing to improve your process for delivering your services and packing them with loads of value so you’re able to charge more in less time. 

Because you’ve created systems around delivering these services, you’re ready to train others to implement (or at least help).

You’re making the kind of choices that free you up in order to keep the business moving forward. 

At this stage, that means much of your time is spent creating and/or launching digital products or hosting 1-many programs and automating the sales process around those offerings. 

PROFESSIONAL BOUNDARIES

At this stage, your business is your #1 best client and you’ll streamline customer service. 

You’ll create policies for things like how you’ll handle refunds, complaints, or questions and outsource those tasks to your team. You’ll have onboarding and offboarding processes in place, and every step of your client’s journey will be predictable and as much as possible, automated. 

Even if your goal is to stay a one-person business or keep your consultancy small, you’ll know when a task is better outsourced and where your time is most valuably spent.

Once you have a system to scale, the sky’s the limit!

So, where are you in the entrepreneur journey? 

Freelancing, self-employment, entrepreneurship — whichever word feels right for you — is a journey. If you’ve spent time comparing YOUR journey to someone else’s, we hope this has helped you realize that evolving from one stage to the next is a process and it’s okay to be where you are.

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll get there! Don’t try to leapfrog — take a look at what needs your attention TODAY and make one change at a time. You got this!

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Making a great first impression with potential clients is often the determining factor for whether they’ll hire you instead of your competition — it isn’t all about who has the lowest price. Their decision will largely come down to who they think they’d like to work with most and feel they can trust.

I’ll be honest with you: when I worked as a designer, I was neither the most talented nor the cheapest person to hire in the world and I had lots of incredible competition too.

But when I got the chance to talk with people one-on-one, I almost always landed the gig. The reasons are very simple and I’m going to share my best secrets with you in this post. 🙂

When the tables are turned and I’m in the position to hire someone, I have a chance to observe how they handle it and I can tell you — a lot of people blow it.

Common mistakes include:

  • They take forever to get back with me
  • They come across as too eager and it feels smarmy and inauthentic
  • They treat me with suspicion
  • They act as if they don’t really care one way or another and/or don’t take the time to understand my problem
  • They don’t make any effort to tell me the reasons why I should choose them
  • They don’t make the next steps clear or expect me to tell them how I want them to do their job
  • There’s too much emphasis on the price, which feels transactional rather than personal


On the other hand, I’ve interviewed people who do the opposite of all these things and those are the people who almost always win my business.

The most important touchpoint in the sales process is the initial conversation — it’s where you win or lose the sale.

Here’s how to flip these mistakes, get a leg up on your competition, and make a great first impression:

#1 Respond Quickly


There’s no bigger turn-off as a potential client than reaching out to someone and not hearing back from them for several days. It says, “I don’t really care, and when you work with me, you’re not going to be able to depend on me.”

Respond to new business inquiries as fast as you can, and follow that through to the end of the project.

#2 Qualify the Client

Not everyone is your customer. The first step is to make sure you’re a good fit for each other, so instead of eagerly launching into a sales pitch, ask good qualifying questions instead.

Find out if they align with your definition of your ideal customer:

“Tell me a little bit about you/your business and what you’re ultimately trying to achieve” is a great opener. Then? Listen.

If it’s a great fit for you, tell them why: “This project is right in my wheelhouse, I’m excited to learn more. I have lots of experience working with [people like you who have similar problems].”

#3 Act as if they’re about to be your new favorite client


Alternate title: Give them the benefit of the doubt.

I know there are a lot of crappy clients out there, but being cynical and viewing every potential client with suspicion is energy they can feel, whether you directly express it or not.

You can’t really know for sure whether someone is going to turn out to be a great client, but you should treat everybody as if they are from that very first encounter right up until they prove otherwise.

Asking good questions, qualifying the client, and having contracts and systems in place — an exit strategy if you will — is your responsibility.

Having ground rules and a contract to protect you from bad apples slipping through, and knowing in advance how you’ll remove yourself from a bad situation if it happens, allows you to release this negative energy from the equation and approach new prospects with an open mind and heart. And they’ll feel that.

#4 Show Genuine Interest in Their Problem


When people inquire about your services, they’ll say something like, “I need __.”

A typical response is, “Yes, I sell _, it’ll be $X.”

This is how you sell a cheeseburger, not a service.

Instead, ask the client about the outcome they hope to achieve, why they’ve decided to invest in this service, and how things will be different for them if your work together is successful.

When you show genuine interest and treat a potential client as more than someone you can do a transaction with, it gets the relationship off to a great start. Establish the relationship and the transaction will come. This alone will set you apart from most people, who only ever take the time to send over a price quote.

#5 Give them the reasons why they should choose you


When you’re selling a service, you likely have lots of competition for the bulleted list of things you do. A lot of potential clients are unfamiliar with the reasons one service provider different from the other — it’s up to you to tell them. Even though they’ve inquired about your services as if they’re buying a cheeseburger (“I need __, how much will that cost?”), take the opportunity to sell your value.

Answer the question, but tell them what it’s like to work with you, how the process works, what makes the experience unique.

If at all possible, do this face to face — either in person or on a video chat. Without eye contact, it’s very difficult to form a human connection and establish trust.

#6 Tell them how it works to work with you


When your customer has to ask a million questions to figure out how it’s going to be when they work with you, you’ve failed to take control and missed a gigantic opportunity to position yourself as an expert (instead of an order-taker).

Make a list of commonly-asked questions and create a script to walk potential clients through your process. Make a list of common objections and address them in advance.

They will probably still have some questions, but they’ll be impressed that you read their mind about a lot of it and addressed their concerns without them having to drag it out of you. This makes you look like you’re going to be in control of the project and that’s what good clients want.

In a nutshell, be prepared to take the initiative: “Let me tell you a little bit about my process and what it’s like to work with me…”

#7 Assume they’re fair and generous

(Rather than cheap, high maintenance, demanding, petty…)

I recently interviewed somebody for a job. We talked about services and pricing, but never once was there an expressed interest in my business, whether she even wanted to work with me, or any information about the value of her services. She quoted a price and then a few days later, asked whether I would be okay to pay $10 more. I was a bit surprised at that because I hadn’t made any attempt to negotiate a lower rate.

I understand that we all have to make a living and asking for money is a part of that, but for me, it was clear that what was important to her was the money and not the work itself or the potential relationship.

No client wants to feel like the only thing that matters is how much money you can get out of them, just like you don’t want clients who only care about how low a price you can offer.

I understand some people will haggle with you over nickels and dimes — but these are shitty clients who view your service as a commodity; you don’t have to play that game if you don’t want to.

Figure out your pricing and give them a quote with integrity and stand by it. Treat your customers as if they’re fair and generous rather than cheap and petty. This is the way to kick things off with mutual respect.


Please let me know in the comments below if you have advice for making a great first impression!

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As a consultant, solopreneur, or creative you know that your most valuable business asset is your time. And yet, one of the biggest challenges of serving clients is keeping our professional boundaries with our clients in check.

We THINK that loosening our boundaries creates an amazing client experience…

😎 “I answered an email at 9pm on a Saturday, they’re going to think I’m such a rockstar!”
😎 “I said yes to out-of-scope requests and I didn’t charge them extra, they’re sure to tell all their friends and colleagues about how amazing I am!”
😎“When a client comes to me with an URGENT! request, I hop right on it. Surely they’ll remember me in their will.”

But let’s be honest here for a second. Underlying it all, really, is a feeling that…

“If I don’t say yes to this, bad things are going to happen.”

Things like… 

😩 “They won’t refer me to their friends or leave me a positive review”
😩 “They won’t pay the final invoice if I don’t do this thing”
😩 “They won’t be satisfied with the work and that’s my worst nightmare”
😩 “They won’t like me”

We often confuse people-pleasing with great customer service when in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Being a pushover and doing things to benefit someone else’s business at the expense of your own is not a great way to go about things and you know that.

But what you may not be thinking about is that it absolutely does not guarantee your clients are going to leave you five-star reviews and rave about you to everyone they know.

In fact, the opposite may actually be true…

A former client told me a story about how she worked nights and weekends to “go above and beyond” to create magic for a difficult client — just after giving birth to her first child! — and her client left her a nasty review on Yelp! anyway. 

Setting firm but friendly professional boundaries is the key to creating an amazing client experience

The way your clients feel about you is your brand, and people develop those feelings largely through experience

So ask yourself: what experience are you creating for them if you’re allowing them to walk all over you? #RealTalk: They’re going to perceive you as an order-taker or a pushover rather than a hired gun.

While they may appreciate your willingness to drop everything to be at their beck and call, what they’re actually thinking is, “I can let things slide,  I know they’ll be there to clean up my mess.” 

Urgent requests are a great example of this. Unless you’re an ER doctor, there are very few real emergencies. Lack of planning and organization is something you train clients to indulge in by not having boundaries set from jump street. 

A great client relationship does not require that you bend over backward to please them by going out of scope, working overtime at your own expense, or dropping your life to answer “URGENT!” emails on the weekends.

Set good boundaries by:

Making your professional boundaries clear in advance of any client engagement

Let them know “How it works to work with you” from the very beginning. 

Bad apple clients aren’t going to appreciate your boundaries and they may say “this isn’t for me, it’s not how I want to work” and they’ll move along and that’s what you want. 

High-quality clients respect that you have a process and boundaries in place and they’ll come to you to follow your process because they’re also busy and they’ll be grateful you take the lead. 

Productizing your services

Design your services (and client experience!) the way you want it to be by creating offerings with a fixed price, scope, timeline and a repeatable, predictable process you guide your clients through.

Productized services put you in charge.

When you do that, people who want that experience will raise their hands to work with you because that’s the experience they want. Clients who want to be in control of everything and test your boundaries to the limits won’t even be interested. 

Bad clients are indecisive, unorganized, controlling, and disrespectful of others… having boundaries and processes in place won’t appeal to them, and to that we say “YAY!” because serving bad clients always comes at a COST to your business.

Getting clear about the reputation you want to create

We like to think that pain-in-the-*bleep* clients are a one-off: “I’ll just do what I need to do to finish this work and then I’ll be done.”

But here’s the thing. Bad clients know other people who will also be bad clients and that’s going to be your referral network.

When they talk about what it’s like to work with you, they’re going to say things like,

“Oh she’s great — she’ll drop everything for you 24/7. If you have an urgent request on the weekend she’ll get right back to you, she doesn’t charge for additional requests, and she’s really flexible — if you get busy she’ll accommodate you and pick things up where you left off.”  

Is that the experience you want to be known for? 

If you’re constantly signing up bad apple clients, you’re fooling yourself if you think you can people-please them into not being a pain-in-the-arse. Trust me, it’s better to focus on attracting great clients by creating a great experience — one with boundaries.  

Getting clear about your opportunity cost

When I was serving clients full time, I got very frustrated that I wasn’t able to scale and I knew the reason was all of the time I used to waste on…

  • The long, drawn-out sales process
  • Going out-of-scope
  • Going “above and beyond” what was outlined in the contract
  • Doing a heck of a lot of people-pleasing

All of those things were not only zapping the joy from my work, they were preventing me from being the master of my own time — which is why I went into business in the first place.

Then I made a simple change that eliminated the fluff in my schedule instantly…

When someone inquired about working with me, I had a response ready to go — I’d send them a “How It works to work with me” document that outlined:

  • All of my services — what the engagement entails, how much it costs, and what they need to do to move forward
  • When I’m available to respond to their emails and when I am not
  • How we will communicate and on what platforms
  • How to reschedule appointments and project milestones without incurring additional charges
  • The consequences of non-emergency project delays
  • What happens in the event they have a “rush” project and the additional charges they’ll incur

This tweak in my process allowed me to free up two days per week to work ON my business, which I spent doing things like marketing, education, improving processes, creating digital products and passive income streams.

It started by recapturing my time through better boundaries and it completely transformed my business. I now have enough consistent income coming in through passive revenue streams that I don’t even have to take on clients anymore unless I want to.

This may seem impersonal or robotic or unfriendly but that’s not true at all. Having a process to kick off a client relationship by setting firm but friendly boundaries and then having a repeatable process for the actual project only enhances the personal relationship and rapport.

Rather than having yet another awkward “scope creep” conversation, or being frustrated because they got busy with other things and couldn’t give me what I needed (e.g. feedback) to move forward… the expectations, consequences, and procedures were spelled out in the beginning.

With all of that out of the way and everybody on the same page, client engagements were FUN and focused and friendly rather than resentful, combative, confrontational and stressful. 

Enforce professional boundaries by…

Being friendly rather than defensive 

When you establish clear boundaries early it’s much less likely you’ll run into problems. 

But in the event you have a client who insists on testing your boundaries, rather than being resentful and negative or even aggressive about it, frame it in a positive way in your mind remembering your professional boundaries are what allow you to run your business well, do good work, and create a great experience for them.

In other words, assume they’ll be cool with it before you enforce your boundaries rather than catastrophize or make false assumptions. 

For example, in the event of a non-emergency project delay, you might say something like this: 

“I totally understand you’re busy right now! If you can’t get me what I need by Thursday the project timeline will need to be readjusted, so what I can do is pause the project. This gives you a bit of space to catch up on things. When you’re ready, I’ll reschedule you according to my next availability — just a reminder per our original contract, there’s a $100 restart fee to restart a paused project. When you’re ready, I’ll do my best to get you back into production as soon as I can.” 

Having systems and processes in place so you can repeat them with each client

Being prepared is going to be your secret weapon when it comes to enforcing your boundaries, so think about areas in your business where you need more control.

Where is time slipping through the cracks? In what areas do things tend to go off the rails?

Here are a few things to think about…

  • If you’re saying the same thing over and over to every client, create a document, video, or add a section to your “FAQs” page to point people to. 
  • Have a plan for how you’ll respond to client inquiries and what you’ll cover in your sales calls. Having scripts prepared in advance will help prevent you from being caught off guard.
  • Be prepared for how you’ll handle the question, “Can I pick your brain?”

The idea is that you want a way to move conversations where your clients are testing your boundaries toward learning how you work and how you don’t.

“Can I pick your brain?” is a tough one for creatives, consultants, and coaches because what we sell, ultimately, is our brain stuff. Clients don’t MEAN to ask for free work, they just need your help, so it’s important to have a response ready for them when this happens. 

“I’d be happy to give some thought to this and share my ideas! Just a reminder, my minimum rate is a 1/2 day — let me know if you’d like me to get you booked into my schedule.”
Or…
“Here’s a link to my calendar to schedule a strategy session” (you can use a tool like Calendly.com that allows them to pay for that session on the spot). 

If they don’t want to pay you for your time, now you know something. They were never going to pay you for your time to get your input and you shouldn’t be giving your time away for free unless they’re following your process that you created that you know will guide them toward a paid project. Doing favors ain’t it.  

And you know what? Nothing bad is going to happen.

Nobody is going to respond with, “Well, I never! I don’t like you anymore.” Nobody is going to leave you a 1-star review for a service you didn’t even perform. Nobody is going to fault you for asking to be compensated for your time and expertise. And if any of those things happen? That’s fine too… how they respond is on THEM, not on you. 

What’s exponentially more likely to happen is they’ll be respectful of your time and come to you when they’re organized, prepared, and have the budget to afford you. And that’s what you want! 

If setting better professional boundaries means you all of a sudden have lots of time on your hands — time you weren’t being paid for — you can focus on your own business and do the things that help you scale, profit and grow. Or… just personal time! Taking care of your well-being or even a vacation once in a while is essential to being happy in your work life. 

Did I leave anything out? Did anything ring true? Let’s talk about it in comments! 

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If I were to ask you, “What do your customers need?” could you answer quickly and clearly? Identifying customer needs is crucial if you want to create offers they’ll gobble up–because if you’re not selling something your customers need, good luck getting them to buy it.

This is where a lot of business advice goes wrong: it’s not enough to figure out what you love doing and what you’re great at and then telling people you sell it.

Having a dream of finding your true passion and then hoping and praying there’s a market for it is not the same thing as having a business strategy that will reward you both personally and financially.

Yes, you must figure out your unique strengths in the market and play to those strengths, but you must also create offers that customers need.

Where it gets tricky: the way you’re thinking about it is most likely not the way they’re thinking about it.

If your marketing messages are not designed to join the conversation that’s already going on in their minds, they won’t listen.

You’re intimate with the things you know will benefit your clients the most, but if they don’t already know they need it, they won’t recognize your solutions as something that’s for them.

So how do you figure out what your clients need? Let’s start with the basics:

Getting To The Bottom Of What Your Clients Need


What every client needs and wants


When I was in college I studied communications, and in just about every class, we were presented with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. I memorized it, but it took me a long time to figure out why it’s relevant in my work.

If you’ve never seen it, or you need a refresher, it goes like this:

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


What this theory aims to teach us is that human beings all have the same needs, wants, and desires. It starts with basic needs―like, if you don’t have a roof over your head and you’re starving, you need to satisfy those needs before you can start worrying about finding true love or winning awards at work.

At the top of the pyramid are the things we should help our clients get. People want to be seen, understood, valued, respected, and to find a way to become the best version of themselves.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a life coach, a designer, a copywriter, a blogger, or a virtual assistant … what they buy from you is part of their master plan to get what they need, and those needs are basic to all humans.

Understand what that means for your clients and help them get there.

Ask Better Questions to Determine Customer Needs


It all starts with asking better questions than “What do you want?” and “When do you need it?” These are questions an order-taker asks, not a go-to expert.

Instead, ask probing questions that will help you understand where they’re coming from. They all have obstacles standing in their way of climbing up Maslow’s pyramid, what are those things?

  • “What change (in life/business) do you hope to see?”
  • “Looking back a year from now, how will you know our work together was successful?”
  • “What is the future you want, and what’s standing in your way of getting there?”
  • Then listen, really listen.

Over time, as you come to understand your clients better, you’ll start to recognize patterns: common fears and common expectations. By listening and learning from your client, you can improve your process and the outcome you promise them in your marketing messages.

Always Be Looking for Clues to Reveal Your Client’s Hidden Needs & Desired Outcomes


Clients will tell you what they really (really, really) need, but usually not directly. So always be on the lookout for the language your target customers use when describing their problems.

I recommend keeping a document where you can store questions, turns of phrases, and descriptions of their frustrations.

Here are some of my favorite ways to find customer insights into their problems:

  • Join Facebook Groups that include members of your target market and pay close attention to their questions, complaints, and frustrations
  • When you’re on an initial sales call or consultation, record the session (I recommend Zoom) and play it back so you can really listen
  • Initial emails with new clients will provide you with a treasure trove of words and phrases that describe how they’re thinking about their problems
  • Look at online forums, blogs in your niche, comments on your competitors’ social media accounts to see how your target clients are describing things

Create a Bullseye Offer That Meets Your Clients’ Deeper Needs

Once you uncover how your clients are thinking about their problems, you can create offers that will help achieve the outcome, result, or transformation they desire.

A bullseye offer, or a signature offer, is one that plays to your strengths, offers clients something they already know they need, and is something they’re willing to pay enough money for that you can meet your income goals.


Solve root problems


Customers are very good at describing external problems, but a stronger brand message is one that speaks to deeper internal problems.

Say you’re a health coach, clients may come to you and say something like “I need to lose weight and get in shape” but when you uncover the deeper reasons why, you discover they lack confidence in social situations and feel left out when their friends participate in athletic activities.

In this scenario, which marketing claim aims for the top of Maslow’s chart?

“I can help you lose weight and get fit” or “Show up to your life with more confidence, strength, and energy.”

I don’t know about you, but the idea of losing weight and getting in shape sounds hard, but I’ll raise my hand to have more confidence, strength, and energy all day long. Make sense?

Sell The Transformation


When you can do that, the people interested in the transformation you can help them get will come to you. People will be loyal to you because you helped them get the outcome they’re after―you’re not interchangeable with every other service provider offering a solution to the surface-level problem.

Move beyond being an order taker by asking better questions, discovering what your clients really need, and then sell them the outcome they want.

Recommended next step: The Brand Story Blueprint will help you get crystal clear about your customers’ needs and the story they need to hear from you. Investing in mastering your message is the most important thing you can do to build your brand as a go-to expert that meets the needs of its customers.

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What is brand personality? It’s what makes your business human in the eyes of your customers. Communicated through tone of voice, visuals, and even customer service policies, brand personality can be expressed in anything you do that lets people know what the experience is like to be your customer.

Here’s why it matters in a nutshell:

If your brand doesn’t have personality characteristics, people are going to have a much harder time figuring out that you’re the one for them.

Think about the last time you became friends with someone new. No doubt you were drawn to certain personality traits: maybe they were funny, intelligent, kind, or something else. We like certain characteristics in other people, and we all have different preferences for qualities we find attractive in others.

It’s no different with brands! People purchase things from brands they like and relate to, it’s really just that simple.

If they don’t have a clear sense of you and what you’re like, they may just keep on scrolling. Inconsistent and generic brand messages with no real strategy or intention behind them aren’t going to get you anywhere, there’s just too much noise competing for your dream customers’ attention. But…

When you define your brand personality and communicate it consistently, you’re sending out signals that will attract your ideal customers and giving them a reason to choose you.

This is one of the most FUN aspects of branding and it’s quite simple too. Even if you don’t feel 100% clear about what it is yet, we’re going to break it down in this post. Let’s start by defining what brand personality is and then dive into the frameworks you can use to help you define yours.



Brand Personality Definition

Brand personality refers to human characteristics associated with a brand. They’re usually expressed as adjectives that convey how you want people to perceive you.

For example: cheerful, youthful, dependable, friendly, responsible, sophisticated, and so on.

We can also think about brand personality in terms of demographic characteristics like gender, age, and social class.

For example:

  • If Harley Davidson were a person? It would be a man. Victoria’s Secret? A woman.
  • Apple would be a young, hip, creative and Microsoft would be a mature professional.
  • Chanel would live in a mansion and TJ Maxx would live in an apartment.

Once you begin to think about your brand as a person with unique personality traits, you’ll be better able to connect with your humans — the customers you want to attract — on a more emotional and personal level.

And that’s important because emotion is what drives decision-making, and that includes purchasing decisions.

Think about Apple customers…

You know there’s no point in arguing the merits and benefits of purchasing a PC. For them, there is no substitute. Buying an Apple product says something about them. 

Apple’s brand personality enables its customers to express themselves–the ideal version of themselves–through the use of their brand.

So think about who your dream customer aspires to be and then consider how your brand helps them become that.

Why Brand Personality is Important

  1. Brand Personality Helps You Break Through the Noise to Capture Attention

Always remember that your dream customers have an infinite number of options for things to pay attention to every single day.

Even just scrolling through social media and checking their email, they’re bombarded with hundreds and thousands of messages. Then they’ve got a to-do list a mile long that they can never seem to get to the bottom of: they have to run to the grocery store, drop the kids off at soccer, schedule an appointment for Lasik surgery, fix the squeaky door hinge and on and on.

Busy, overwhelmed, and distracted… they simply can’t pay attention to every little thing that crosses their field of vision. Emails have to go unopened, social media posts quickly scrolled past, videos get assigned to the “(will never) watch later” list…

With that in mind, it’s easier to understand why a differentiation strategy is so crucial. You need to break through all that noise and get their attention, and one of the best ways to do it is by expressing your unique brand personality.

That is, if they like you… they’ll be exponentially more likely to pay attention.

When you have a clear and consistent brand style and voice (which starts by defining your brand’s personality traits), you shorten the time it takes for people to recognize, remember, and pay attention to you.

2. Brand Personality Helps DIfferentiate You & Drives Consumer Preference

Your dream customers are also comparing you to what your competitors have to offer, and if they can’t tell the difference, they’ll probably choose the one with the lowest price.

Humanizing your brand is one way for you to distinguish yourself from your competitors as something more special and valuable than what others are offering.

We humans like to think we're logical, but never forget that it's emotions that drive your customers' decision to choose you.Click To Tweet

3. Brand Personality Helps You Tell Your Brand Story

At the core of your brand story are the reasons why your customers should care about you.

  • What do you stand for?
  • What are you here to contribute to your tiny corner of the world and the people in it?
  • How do you do business differently than your competition?
  • What is the experience like to work with you?

The personality characteristics you choose to focus on must be rooted in your larger brand strategy.

Humans (and brands) all have underlying beliefs, values, core principles that guide them.

Personality traits — the things we perceive on the surface — give us insight into who people are deep down.

Brand personality is really about personifying your brand in a way that has meaning to the people you wish to attract

How to Define Your Brand Personality – 3 Frameworks

There are two main approaches to defining your brand personality, and a third method combines the first two. There is no right answer — choose the one that makes the most sense for you.

Personally, we use the first method but many of our branding colleagues use the second.

The important thing to remember is your goal: to create a consistent tone of voice in your messages and to create a visual identity that’s in alignment with your personality. If you can do that, how you approach it doesn’t really matter.

Framework #1: Aaker’s Brand Personality Dimension Framework

We always find it’s helpful to use a framework and luckily, a Stanford researcher named Jennifer Aaker in her paper Dimensions of Brand Personality created one for us and it’s a great starting point.

Brand Personality Framework
Brand Personality Framework

Aakers’ model groups brand personalities into five broad categories:

  • Sincerity
  • Excitement
  • Competence
  • Sophistication
  • Ruggedness

You want to pick 3-5 adjectives (personality traits) you want to “own” when somebody thinks about your brand.

The adjectives (traits) you choose will fall under one of these five personality dimensions. For example, daring or adventurous go under excitement. Charming and feminine fall under sophistication and so on.

This simple framework can help you distinguish your brand from your competitors.

For example, if you’re a virtual assistant, your main competitors may focus on competence — they’re all about reliability, hard work, and responsibility.

You might position yourself as the one who’s sincere – cheerful, casual, and relatable.

Yes, of course, you’re also reliable, hard-working and responsible… it’s about choosing specific traits you’ll put forward and lead with.

Choosing specific qualities to focus on (rather than every trait you possess, the complex human creature that you are), allows you to create a powerful value proposition:

“I’m the one that’s __________.”

Being able to fill in that blank means you’ve provided your potential customers with a clear and easy-to-understand differentiator and they’ll be able to base their choice on the qualities they feel more attracted to and aligned with.

Brand Personality Quiz

Want to have a little fun? I’ve created a free quiz to help you determine which of Aaker’s Brand Personality Dimenions you belong in: Take the brand personality quiz here.

Once You’ve Chosen Your Brand Personality Traits… Then What?

From here on out, rather than calling them “brand personality traits,” let’s use a metaphor that can be really helpful for remembering “how to be” in your communications. We like to call these helpful adjectives “brand anchors.” We’re visual people and this helps us burn it into our subconscious that we’re supposed to actually do something with these words:

Everything you do, say, write, share and even how you present yourself (your brand visuals) should be “anchored by” these adjectives.

The graphic below represents the way we approach branding and how we anchor these characteristics to everything we say, create, and do. This little metaphor helps us to be consistent.

Brand Personality Anchors

Brand Anchor Example

Using Aakar’s framework, we clearly fall under the “sincerity” category. We’re not wild and zany, or tough and rugged, and unfortunately, we’re not glamorous or fancy. And while we like to think of ourselves as intelligent and hard-working, we don’t quite qualify for the “competent” category — which doesn’t mean we’re not competent, it’s that we don’t lead with that quality.

Because a lot of our customers have described the process of working with us as approachable, we wanted to convey friendliness in our visual brand. For example, rather than corporate blue (always appropriate for a ‘competent’ brand) we use bright, warm, and fun colors in our brand visuals. Cheerful, but not so over-the-top as to spill over into the “excitement” category.

Framework #2: Brand Archetypes Framework

Another way to personify your brand is to choose an archetype. This is a model based on Carl Jung’s theory that people tend to use symbolism to understand concepts. He defined 12 archetypes that represent different groupings of characteristics, aspirations, values, and attitudes.

The question to ask yourself is, which one of these identities will YOUR dream customers relate to most?

Brand Personality Archetypes
Brand Personality Archetypes

The Social Types
want to connect with others

THE REGULAR GUY/GAL
Goal: To fit in
Wants their customers to feel a sense of belonging
Traits: Casual, down-to-earth, folksy, guy/gal next door, supportive, solid virtues, real, democratic, equality, community, lack of pretense
Famous examples: IKEA, Visa, Levi’s

THE LOVER
Goal: Intimacy
Wants their customer to find love and connectionTraits: Romantic, sensual, passionate, warm, intimate, giving
Famous examples: Chanel, Victoria’s Secret

THE JESTER
Goal: to enjoy life
Wants their customers to have more joy and laughter in their daily lives
Traits: Fun, light-hearted, quirky, zany, irreverent, humorous, enjoyment, never boring
Famous examples: M&Ms, Skittles

The Order Types
want to give the world structure

THE CREATOR
Goal: To innovate
Wants their customers to believe in what’s possible
Traits: Imaginative, creative, artistic, entrepreneurial, inventive, non-conformist, visionary, innovative, non-conforming
Famous examples: Adobe, Crayola Lego

THE RULER
Goal: Control (in order to lead)
Wants their customers to feel more organized, stable, secureTraits: Organized, leader, role model, responsible, controls the chaos, boss
Famous examples: Microsoft, Mercedez-Benz, Rolex

THE CAREGIVER
Goal: To serve others
Wants their customers to feel understood and protected
Traits: Maternal, generous, compassionate, caring, nurturing, parental, empathy, selfless
Famous examples: UNICEF, Johnson & Johnson, Heinz

The Ego Types
want to change the world

THE MAGICIAN
Goal: Power (to make magical things happen)
Wants to make their customers’ dreams come true
Traits: Inspirational, idealistic, charismatic, visionary, imaginative, spiritual
Famous examples: Apple, Disney

THE HERO
Goal: Mastery (in order to make the world a better place)
Wants to help their customers: by rescuing them from their troublesTraits: Bold, honorable, confident, strong, courageous, inspirational
Famous examples: Nike, FedEx

THE REBEL
Goal: Liberation
Wants to help their customers break free from the status quo, overturn what’s not working Traits: Wild, change-maker, rebellious, rule-breaker, revolution, edgy, misfit, outrageous, radical, free, disruptor, shocking
Famous examples: Harley Davidson, Virgin

The Freedom Types
want to find paradise

THE INNOCENT
Goal: Happiness Wants to help their customers feel great on the inside
Traits: Positive, kind, good, pure, simple, young, loyal, optimistic, trustworthy, moral, reliable, honest, good virtues, nostalgic, sees the good in everything, faith, does the right thing
Famous examples: Coca-cola, Dove

THE EXPLORER
Goal: Freedom
Wants to help their customers have new experiences, adventures, discoveriesTraits: Adventurous, independent, pioneering, individualism, wanderlust
Famous examples: REI, Corona, The North Face

THE SAGE
Goal: To understandWants to help their customers by sharing knowledge
Traits: Wise, visionary, knowledgeable, intelligent, trusted source of information, thoughtful, mentoring, advisor, guru
Famous examples: Oprah, Google, NPR, Quora

Framework #3: Combo of Personality Dimensions & Archetypes Frameworks

By now you’re probably wondering if you can combine these two methods. It just so happens that some researchers set out to do just that! In Advertising between Archetype and Brand Personality, the authors combined Aaker and Jung’s work and the result turned out like this:

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Bechter, Clemens & Farinelli, Giorgio & Daniel, Rolf-Dieter & Frey, Michael. (2016). Advertising between Archetype and Brand Personality. 

The personality traits and dimensions they chose were subjective, so this means if you want to use an archetype and combine it with some brand anchors, you can create your own framework to follow. Just use your best judgment when choosing the traits that fit your archetype.

Embracing Your Brand Personality

An important thing to remember is that these exercises intend to help you create a consistent voice and style so people can understand what you’re about and connect with you on a deeper level.

But it’s not about strategizing ways to trick people into believing something about you that’s just not true and that’s not necessary anyway. Your greatest competitive advantage is there’s only one YOU. It’s just that people tend to see their personality traits as “flaws” and they downplay them.

Want a winning brand personality? Be who you actually are.

What do they do instead? They look around at what everyone else is doing and copy it. This tendency is called social compliance and you must resist following what everyone else is doing if you want to stand out.

Maybe you’re…

  • Adventurous and spirited but you’re a financial planner, so you think you need be corporate, responsible, dependable.
  • Sophisticated and feminine but you work in tech so you think you need to be tough and masculine.
  • Down-to-earth, warm, and laid-back but you’re in fashion so you think you need to be glamorous and refined.

Branding is not trickery. It’s about showing up as authentically as you can so people know what to expect.

Now let me ask you this:

  • Who do you think adventurous and spirited people would rather work with when they need a financial planner?
  • Who do you think sophisticated women will want to work with when they need technical expertise?
  • Who do you think laid-back people will choose when they need fashion advice?

The beautiful silver lining about having so much competition these days is that you have a huge opportunity to get narrow and worry only about finding your people. They notice us when we’re showing them exactly who we are.

People like to work with people they like and relate to. Your people will get you, so don’t try to be something you’re not -- that’s only going to backfire and attract the wrong people to you.Click To Tweet

How To Communicate Your Brand Personality

Now that you’ve chosen your personality traits, you need a strategy to communicate that personality with consistency. You’ll do that in three ways:

  1. Visual Identity: This is your logo, your fonts, your color palette, and the image and design style used in your marketing materials.
  2. Brand Voice: This is your tone of the language you use–how you say things; the words you use and the ones you don’t.
  3. Actions: Basically, everything you do contributes to your customers perceiving you in one way or another, make sure your actions are intentional and in alignment with the personality you define.

Visual Identity

Once you have your brand anchors, you can make choices about your visuals–your graphics, brand colors, and so on—so they’re in alignment with the traits you want to become known for. They include…

  • Your Logo
  • Color Palette
  • Fonts
  • Visual Style Rules
  • Image Style Rules
  • Design guidelines

Brand Voice

Your brand anchors can also help you create a consistent tone of voice in your brand copy and marketing messages, including…

  • Naming strategy
  • Tagline
  • Tone of Voice
  • The words you’ll use and the ones you won’t
  • Editorial guidelines

Actions

This is where people fall off when it comes to branding–thinking that their brand visuals and voice are all that’s required. But keep in mind that people’s perceptions of you are largely based on experience. Your actions are brand promises fulfilled. How will you walk the walk in your…

  • Customer service policies
  • Product and service offerings
  • Processes — onboarding, offboarding, etc.

Your brand personality is the promise, but you must live up to it in everything you do. The idea is that when your work together is through, people will automatically describe you with the same personality characteristics you defined in your brand strategy.

Brand Personality Examples

Let’s take a look at the Aker’s Brand Personality Dimension exercise to see some famous brand personalities in action.

SINCERITY

When you fall under the sincerity dimension, you’re down-to-earth, honest, cheerful and genuine. People appreciate your generous, helpful, and caring nature.

This happens to be our brand personality dimension. We wish we had fallen under “excitement” (ha!) but the reality is, the way we are with customers is more in alignment with qualities like empowering, friendly, unpretentious and “no bs” — that’s based on feedback they’ve given us, not just some adjectives we pulled out of a hat.

That’s why this exercise can be so helpful… sometimes we don’t always recognize our own strengths and qualities and how others perceive us the frameworks give us a starting point.

Oh, and another famous brand that falls under this category is APPLE. You may think they belong in the “excitement” category with the visionaries and change-makers, but they’re actually all about empowering their customers to unleash their creativity. HELPFULNESS is the more dominant characteristic.

EXCITEMENT

If you’re a change-maker and a visionary, chances are you fall under the EXCITEMENT category. Excitement brands are daring, charismatic, spirited, imaginative, passionate and creative.

When you. think of creative vision and imagination, you can’t help but think of DISNEY!

Or how about TESLA? Tesla is a brand that’s out to disrupt the car industry to be the “world’s first genuine green car brand.”

COMPETENCE

When your brand dimension is COMPETENCE, you’re the one people depend on. You get things one and you’re reliable. We want our doctors, lawyers, plumbers and car mechanics to be competent and dependable above all else.

One of the most famous brands that falls under this category is Microsoft.

SOPHISTICATION

Sophisticated brands inspire a sense of luxury, prestige, femininity and high class. Many personal brands fall under “sophistication” — think lifestyle bloggers, beauty gurus, and even graphic designers who have an elegant aesthetic. Think Audrey Hepburn

The famous brand that first springs to mind in the sophistication category is Chanel.

RUGGEDNESS

These are the outdoorsy, adventurous, masculine and sporty brands. While usually reserved for B2C brands, you’ll also see personal trainers, life coaches and other consultants with a rugged personality. It’s definitely a great way to set yourself apart!

Think JEEP, Harley Davidson, or REI… we ADORE that one of their biggest campaigns is to promote the CLOSING of their business on Black Friday to encourage their customers to get outside.

In Summary

The real magic happens when you convey a consistent personality in your branding — your brand voice, visual identity, and even your actions. WIth consistency, people start to “get to know you,” which leads to trusting and choosing you.

Having a distinct personality means you’re not just some anonymous, generic company offering the same things a lot of other companies are offering. You become known and remembered as the one that’s ________[insert personality traits here].

Don’t forget to grab our Brand Personality Exercise below to discover yours or take this fun brand personality quiz!



Was this helpful? Have a question? Hit us up in the comments!

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“Tripwire” is one of those jargon terms that make even our most hardcore marketing friends cringe, but there’s no denying they’re a powerful tool for creating sales funnels that convert.

If you’re interested in building a list filled with eager-to-buy customers rather than just freebie-collecting subscribers, and if you’re looking for a way to add passive revenue streams to your business, stick around as we walk through how to use tripwires to do just that. 😎

But first, if you’re wondering, “What is a tripwire?”  let’s start by breaking down some basic definitions in real-human lingo…

What is a Tripwire in Marketing?

A tripwire is an irresistible low-cost offer (usually a digital product priced at $49 or less) that’s designed to turn a member of your audience into a customer quickly.

Irresistible because the perceived value is much greater than the price and it solves a painful problem for your customer.

At ConversionMinded, we stick to a rule of “$49 or less” but often our tripwires are priced much lower in the $7-$22 range. The reason why is that for our B2B audience, this fits squarely into the “impulse purchase” range.

If the price is less than the value of having that problem solved, there’s very little anxiety around their decision to buy without doing a ton of research and taking time to consider, so they’re more likely to take action the moment they see the offer.

Say you offer a coaching package or digital course priced at $2,000. That’s a pretty big financial commitment (especially for people who don’t know what it’s like to be your customer yet). Your customer will need to compare all their options, do a bit of digging to figure out exactly what to expect, and psychologically process all of their objections before feeling confident about spending that money.

A product that’s priced very low is a less-risky first step. So maybe for you, that first offer comes in the form of a $25 workbook that helps your target audience inch closer toward their goals as they relate to your coaching program.

Once your customer “converts” (makes that initial purchase), you can continue to nurture the relationship with them through automated email sequences, webinars, and other marketing tactics to guide them toward your premium offers. But now, after getting a sample of the value they can expect when they give you money, they know they can trust you if they make another purchase.

What is a Tripwire Marketing Funnel?

A tripwire marketing funnel uses your irresistible low-cost offer as the first step in a larger funnel that guides customers toward an additional purchase. It’s the tripwire offer and all the other pieces in the funnel mapped out from start to finish.

The tripwire’s purpose in the funnel is to get your audience to take a leap of faith and take a small action (to put it crudely, “pull out their wallets”).

Their decision to trust you with their money has already been made, so it’s the perfect time to offer them something else that will help them solve this problem even more. You can even do that during the checkout process. Your second offer might be an “upsell” to a complementary product or an “upgrade” to a larger package.

Or, if you’re selling services or high-ticket programs and courses, your “pitch” might happen after you nurture the relationship with emails and other content so they can get to know you and your approach a little better first, but you want to do this immediately by automating your follow up emails because this is when they’re going to be most engaged and will be actively looking for solutions.

Think of it like “stacking” one offer on top of another in a way that helps your customer solve a specific problem or achieve a desired outcome.

Either way, if your tripwire is hyper-relevant to your other offerings, it’s a very effective way to attract the right people into those funnels.

Why Tripwire Marketing is So Effective

When someone makes a purchase there is an exchange of value (their money in exchange for your solution) and that changes the relationship. That psychological shift is the key to understanding the purpose of a tripwire.

Once someone trusts you with their cold, hard cash and you deliver value in return, they’re no longer a total stranger, they’re a satisfied customer.

And a satisfied customer is exponentially more likely to take you up on another offer (even a much more expensive offer!) than someone who has never made a purchase before.

In other words, a tripwire fast-tracks the customer journey.

The Role A Tripwire Plays in Your Value Ladder

I know, “value ladder” — more marketing lingo. But this one is actually a goodie because it’s a visual metaphor for exactly what it is, so it’ll will help you remember it and put it into practice.

A value ladder is simply a series of offers that guides people from complete internet strangers (“who are you again?”) to loyal customers and raving fans.

The idea is that each of your offers will increase in price and value so you can meet your audience where they are in their decision-making process (to hire you or make a purchase).

As we’ve covered, when they first encounter you, it’s highly unlikely they’re going to be ready to commit to a high-ticket purchase. They’re just starting to become aware of the problem they’re experiencing and options to solve it.

The customer decision-making phases

At the awareness stage, they’re probably only willing to invest a bit of their time to read a blog post. Then, if the blog post was valuable to them, they’ll likely be willing to give you their email in exchange for a free offer. And deeper into your marketing funnel they go…

A Tripwire is a Bridge Between Your Free Content and Your Marketing Emails

Now, what most people do at this point (after your audience subscribes to your list) is to start sending out newsletters to “stay in touch” hoping someday, eventually, their subscribers will be ready to take the next steps. And that’s fine, we do that too, but we all know the chances are very likely that this person will be one of the 75-80% who, on average, doesn’t even open your emails.

Enter the tripwire.

By making an irresistible offer right away, a percentage of those people who sign up for your list will become a customer immediately. And that’s magical because a customer is something entirely different than a random person who doesn’t know or trust you who just signed up for your list to grab a freebie.

Now, before you start getting dollar signs in your eyes…

Yes, you can make money selling tripwires. (Some people make a lot.) But always remember that the most valuable role your tripwire plays is to earn trust. So come at it from that angle and make that your primary goal. You might even think of the revenue it generates as the cherry on top.

If you offer some flimsy cheapo thing that doesn’t have a whole lot of value, they might not be too upset if they didn’t pay a lot for it. But be careful here because if the value doesn’t exceed the price they paid for it, you’ve blown your chance to retain a customer for life and maximize revenue in the long run.

Because it’s exponentially cheaper to keep a customer you have than acquire a new one, tripwires are a great way to build a list of buyers. Once you’ve established trust with a customer, they’re exponentially more likely to buy something else (even a high ticket offer).

So you want to be thinking in terms of your lifetime value of a customer, not a one-off low-ticket sale.

In the following value laddder illustration, I’m calling the tripwire an “intro offer.” (This is the exact ladder we teach in the Bullseye Offer Formula course).

This offer represents the first time you’re putting a price tag on the value you provide –it’s higher in value than your free offers (blog posts, freebies, webinars, etc.) but less than your high ticket programs, products, courses, or 1-1 services.

It needs to be a digital product of some kind (not a discounted consultation or service) so you’re able to scale and make the best use of your time. That is, it needs to be a 100% automated and passive thing working for you in the background.

Where the tripwire offer fits into your value ladder

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The Benefits of Using A Tripwire

Tripwires Help You Build A More Target Emal List

Because you’re taking a shortcut in the customer journey by turning them into a customer right away, that means you’re able to more easily build a list of customers rather than a list of anonymous strangers who are just there to consume your free content and peace out.

Tripwires Provide a Way for Hesitant Customers to Vet You Before Investing More Money

This is an unexpected surprise I learned about tripwires after implementing them to make a bit of extra passive income…

I figured people would buy them as part of the natural flow of a very simple marketing funnel: blog post > opt-in freebie > tripwire offer.

But what I didn’t expect was that people who were considering me for my higher-priced 1-1 services were purchasing my low-cost digital products as a way of sussing me out. My tripwires were intel for them!

I know that because time after time, I’d get on a sales call and the person on the other end would kick things off with, “So I read your ebook!”

Sometimes what they purchased had nothing to do with what they wanted to hire me for. They just wanted to know if they gave me money they’d get value in return.

I realized they had been eyeing the top rung of my value ladder (my premium services) and decided to skip back down to the low-priced offer as a way to overcome final objections and lingering doubts.

And that? Makes sense. Whatever works. 🙂

You Can Use Tripwires to Gauge Interest in Larger Offers You’re Thinking About Creating

You can get creative with tripwires and use them to validate other ideas you have for larger product or service offerings. That is, create the tripwire first and then create more offers for your funnel if it works out.

Say you have an idea to create a product about branding and you outline all the things people need help with when they’re doing their own branding project.

What you can do to “test the waters” of interest in your course or product is to create a smaller digital product that relates to it and solves a very narrow, specific problem.

To get ideas you’ll start by brainstorming all those problems…

“How do I come up with my brand name?”
“What colors should I use for my branding?”
“What fonts should I choose for my branding?”
“How do I create a logo?”
“Do I need a tagline? What even is a tagline?”

From this list, you might choose the problem of selecting great fonts to use in a branding project. Cool. But that’s still a pretty broad topic, right? That is, you don’t want to create a typography course, that would be solving the problem too far and you don’t want to get too carried away. 🤪

So think about…

How can you offer a quick win? What kind of tool or training could you create to help your audience quickly choose fonts for their branding project?

This is the exact process I went through when I came up with the idea for The Font Personality Swipe file, one of my very first tripwires. I included 75 Google Font combinations categorized by brand personality and I priced it at $7.

I just offered a quick win for one very specific problem. People struggling to choose brand fonts can use this swipe file to find options that will work for them.

I knew that if people gobbled that up? I could continue solving their problem further. That little $7 download sold really well so I invested a bit more time in creating a larger product – the Brand with Confidence Toolkit which, no surprise, also sold really well and continues to. Because the tripwire sold well I knew there was a pretty good chance solving that problem further would be a winner.

Tripwires can be a great way to understand your audience and what they need help with and they shouldn’t cost you a lot of time to put together.

Plus, even if a tripwire flops, chances are good you’re going to make some sales to offset the costs of creating it. You would be surprised how helpful even a $7 product can be for your bottom line when you give it enough time. (As my accountant mama used to say when I’d ask her for money, “It all adds up!”)

Tripwires Can Be Repurposed As Bonus Incentives For Larger Offerings

Once you’ve created a tripwire, if it naturally relates to another product or service you offer, you can easily throw it in as a bonus. People LOVE bonuses and it helps you to create the perception of higher value without lowering your prices when you offer something extra for a limited time.

Over time, you can even build up an inventory of low-cost digital products to use as tripwires and limited-time bonuses in email promotions to help you create a sense of urgency.

Tripwires Are The Easiest Way To Make Passive Income

And last but not least, one of the biggest benefits of adding a tripwire to your marketing mix is to make extra passive income.

If you’re considering creating a larger course and that’s new territory for you, I’d encourage you to try creating a tripwire funnel as a first step — they take much less time to create and test.

You’ll learn a LOT about how much time, money, and effort it takes to set up sales funnels and automate the sales process, and then you’ll be able to apply what you learn to a larger offering. (The higher the price, the more complicated the marketing will be but this is a great way to get started with the basics.)

While it’s possible to make oodles of money with low-cost digital products, “how much” largely depends on the size of your audience and how aggressively you promote them.

Be realistic because passive income is a long game, it takes time to gain momentum. But if you consider the money you make as a way to offset marketing costs and the time/expenses it takes to create them, you’ll be more likely to keep adding to your inventory of digital products.

If your tripwire converts really well you can lean into that and focus on getting more traffic to it, even running paid traffic (advertising), and adding more offers to your funnels (upsells, downsells, etc.).

When I was just starting out many years ago I had a relatively small audience and wasn’t getting rich selling tripwires, but every week I’d get a paycheck and it amounted to a few extra thousand bucks per year in additional revenue with virtually no overhead. It may not seem like a lot, but consider that even years later, those products still sell without any additional efforts and negligible overhead costs.

What Makes a Great Tripwire?

TLDR; it’s all about value, value, value.

At this point, I want to mention a common mistake people make based on my experience coaching clients through setting up their first funnel…

As we’ve established, a great tripwire is a low-cost offer ($49 or less) but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be incredibly valuable. In fact, it should provide much more value than the price you put on it and that can feel painful when you’re just getting started.

What a lot of beginners do is consider all those hours they spent creating their digital product and calculate the value of their time. That is, if they’re a freelancer charging $100 per hour and it took them 20 hours to create, they’re thinking that was a $2,000 opportunity cost (so, they’d better price it pretty high).

You might be tempted to think that a tripwire that’s priced at $10 means you’ll have to sell 200 before you “break even.”

But selling digital products is not the same as selling your time. It’s not an opportunity cost, it’s an investment, and the payoff won’t happen instantly like it does when you send an invoice for services.

And remember, your first goal isn’t to generate revenue, it’s to earn trust and to attract people who are good candidates for your other (higher priced) products and services. You can even think of creating a tripwire as a marketing investment.

A great tripwire helps your customer solve their problem a little bit of the way (toward your other solutions) and gives them a quick win. If must relate to your other paid offerings (see value ladder above) in order for it to be a win for you as well.

Quick example. My first digital product was an eBook/workbook written with my ideal client in mind. I priced it at $47 and made less than $1000 in sales the first year. Not awesome, right? 😂

I had no idea what I was doing and no clue how to even get my product in front of the right people. But, I had created something I knew would be valuable to the people I wanted to work with 1-1. When I crunched the numbers I realized 10% of them went on to become a client and those clients paid me thousands of dollars for my services.

So think about…

  • What problems do you solve? (With your 1-1 services or higher-ticket products/programs.)
  • What problems do your customers have as they relate? (Brainstorm a big old list!)
  • What’s the ultimate outcome or transformation they want? (Really take the time to get clear about the big picture.)

Then think about…

  • How can you break this problem down and solve one specific aspect of it?
  • How can you give them a “sample” of your larger offerings without giving away too much?
  • What can you create that’ll be useful to them (for example save them time or money, or help them achieve an immediate goal)
  • What do you need to include in your product to give them a standalone solution? (In other words, they win whether they make another purchase or not.)

👉The key to a great tripwire is that it solves a specific problem. Be ready to define exactly what that is and what outcome they can expect when they buy.

Note: don’t go wild and start solving all of the problems your dream customers have. Just make it hyper-relevant to your other products and services in your value ladder and aim to give them a quick win.

Examples of Tripwire Digital Products You Can Create

Since we’re talking digital products here, we’re talking about content and that can come either as…

  • Written content
  • Audio content
  • Video content
  • A combination of all three (like a small course)

Once you have an idea for what you can create, play to your strengths and choose the format that will be most useful to your audience.

  • It might be an interactive .pdf workbook or an eBook or guide, a calendar, a swipe file, templates, a spreadsheet or a combination of digital documents
  • An audio guide or an audio series is great if your audience includes people on-the-go – they can listen in their car, on their commute, while doing chores, or at the gym
  • Maybe it’s a video masterclass or tutorials
  • What about a bundle or toolkit that combines different options from the list above?

Brainstorm some initial ideas and then ask yourself:

  • What is the outcome my customer will get when they’ve used this product?
  • Are there any gaps that will prevent them from getting that outcome? (Fill those in!)
  • What can I include that will make it even easier for them?
  • How can I save them time in achieving this outcome?
  • What would make this even more valuable to them?

PDF Workbooks, Swipe files, eBooks, and other Digital Documents

You don’t need special software or design skills to create a digital document. It can be as simple as hopping on Google Docs or Canva and creating a document as you do, then, save it as a .PDF, and voila!

But as a former professional designer, I know first-hand that good design can elevate the perception of value so my advice is to create a nice cover and mockup and make sure your documents are well-formatted. You might even find a freelance designer or virtual assistant with design skills to help if that’s not your cup of tea.

Or, check out our Make it Sell it Toolkit which we created for digital product creators for this very reason. We put together an epic collection of Canva templates for creating documents to sell (plus matching landing pages and sales pages for WordPress).

Audio Guides

Admittedly, I’m no audio expert so if you’re a podcaster or have experience with this, just fast forward, nothing to see here. 🤪

I keep it cheap and easy by using QuickTime (already installed on my computer) to record audio. I don’t have a fancy-pants microphone (yet) and I don’t think you need to to get started… but, you do want to make sure your audio is clear and free from background noise. Customers will forgive a lot if you’re working on a budget but not bad audio.

I either use earbuds that have a microphone built-in or a lavalier mic. If you’re “one of those people” and only top-shelf will do, a top tip I have for you is to look in the description box for your favorite YouTube podcaster, they usually link to the equipment they’re using.

For editing, check out Audacity. 

To sell an audio file, you can use something simple like Gumroad.  Just sign up for an account. You can use the free plan to start (they just take a bigger cut of any sales) and upgrade when you’ve got money coming in.

Video tutorials, workshops, masterclass, small drip course

If you can teach something that’s better presented in video format, you could create a video presentation or a series of smaller videos to be delivered as a “drip course” (for example one short lesson delivered each day for a fixed number of days).

Setting that up can be as simple as hosting your videos as “unlisted” on YouTube and then creating an automated series of emails that link to the videos with a tool like MailerLite or ConvertKit.

Both email tools make creating automated sequences easy but my preference is MailerLite if you’re just getting started with something like this because it’s free until you hit 1,000 subscribers.

The easiest way I know how to host and sell videos, though, is to set them up in a digital product hosting service like Podia. You simply upload the videos directly into the lesson and they handle all the hosting for you, you can even set it as a “drip” course.

It’s also extremely user-friendly for people who are consuming your content and works on all devices. If you have supplemental text, checklists, or workbooks, or documents, you can upload them as well. Easy-peasy.

Side note: I know there are lots of great membership sites and digital product e-commerce solutions out there that I’m not mentioning. I’ve done tons of research and have used lots of technologies for different projects. But, I use these in my own business and I’m a huge fan of choosing the easiest solutions to start — my feeling is, tech headaches and frustrations are not a good use of time until the revenue justifies it.

3 Simple Tripwire Marketing Funnels

Once you’ve created your low-priced digital product, you can’t just stick it on a “products” page on your website and expect people to buy it. Some may, but most people will miss it. The idea is to present them with an offer they can’t resist at exactly the right moment.

Remember that your tripwire is the bridge between your free offers and your email marketing content.

Free content > Free opt-in incentive > Tripwire > Email marketing

Your tripwire sales page needs to be shown to them immediately when they sign up for your email list. That’s when they’re most engaged and actively looking for solutions. Presenting your tripwire offer can be done in one of two ways:

  1. It’s presented on the “thank you” page that you redirect people to after they opt-in to your email list
  2. And/or, it’s offered in your delivery welcome email

There are lots of ways to go about setting up a tripwire funnel but here are just a few ideas for you. Just remember that the purpose of the tripwire is to create an offer that’s so attractive it’ll wow your audience so much they’ll want to buy it on impulse.

1. The One Time Offer Funnel

The “one-time offer” (or “OTO”) is a very common funnel used by bloggers and digital product creators. To set it up you’ll need:

  • Relevant blog post(s) that relate to your tripwire product
  • A content upgrade (a freebie + an opt-in form within your post)
  • A landing page to redirect the user to after they fill out the form with a “one time offer” for a limited time
  • A follow-up sequence of emails that guides them toward your next or more premium offer
Tripwire marketing funnel

How this works is immediately after they sign up for your mailing list, you’ll send them to a “thank you” page. Most email service providers have this functionality (we use ThriveLeads to create our forms and redirects).

But instead of just a simple “thank you” message, you’ll also present a special offer… you might call it:

  • An exclusive offer that’s not available anywhere else
  • A one time offer that won’t be made again
  • A limited time offer for new subscribers

To give you a visual, it looks something like this…

STEP 1: Create a landing page

A landing page is different from a normal web page because you’ll remove all distractions with the exception of your offer. That means it should have no header navigation, no footer, no links to other things, no “follow me on social media” — just the offer.

I recommend learning how to set up landing pages on your own domain because to me, committing to using a third-party landing page service (which are usually not cheap) is a monthly expense that’s not worth it when you’re just getting started.

The WordPress theme I prefer to use to create landing and sales pages is Divi – it’s as simple as choosing the “blank page” template. Then, I just use their visual drag-and-drop editor to set up the page.

Visual builders like Elementor or Thrive Architect are also great tools that allow you to do basically the same thing.

(You can check out our toolkit that includes pre-designed sales pages and landing pages for all three builders with copy prompts and mockup templates to set these pages up quickly.)

STEP 2: Integrate a countdown timer

I know you’re probably thinking “Oh no, those cheesy things?” but without them, there’s no real urgency to take action. But here’s the thing… you mustn’t just put a countdown timer that doesn’t really expire the offer.

You need to use one that legitimately offers it for a limited time and if they don’t buy, the page should expire.

An affordable option I use and have been pretty happy with is Countdown Dynamite. It’s a simple plugin that integrates with WordPress and is easy as pie to set up. You just turn it “on” on any page where you want it to appear, tell it how long you want the timer to run (e.g. 15 minutes) and then the page redirects to a page of your choice once that timer runs out. For around $10 bucks it’s a bargain and definitely gets the job done.

The ONLY thing you need to be aware of is that when your countdown timer runs out, it runs out for YOU too, and if you’re working on the page, it’ll tell you time is up and redirect you! 😂 Either work fast or just be aware you need to turn it off while working or go into your post to clear cache and restart the timer.

2. The Tripwire Upsell Funnel

Another way to go about it is to drive traffic to a landing page with a freebie and for that, you’ll need:

  • Traffic (ads, seo, social media, etc.)
  • A landing page with a freebie and opt-in form
  • A sales page with tripwire offer to redirect them to after they sign up
  • An upsell offer right within your checkout process to add to their order

Once people opt-in to your freebie, you would then redirect them to a sales page with your irresistible offer. Once they begin the checkout process, you can invite them to add an additional purchase to the order.

How you price your upsell all depends on the price sensitivity of your audience and what you’re selling, but generally these aren’t super high ticket offers (those take more nurturing, usually with emails, sales calls, free trainings and webinars, etc.) but to just give you an idea, most of our upsells are under $200.

Note: this is not a hard-and-fast rule, it’s just an example:

Tripwire upsell funnel

These are just two simple examples and if you’re wondering… Yes, you can totally mix and match these ideas or edit your funnels in a way that makes sense.

For example, you might drive traffic right to your tripwire page and skip the freebie landing page step. Or you might add an upsell to the “one-time offer” funnel that starts with a blog post and content upgrade. Visuals always help us but it’s really just to get you started thinking about the possibilities.

Take out a piece of paper and sketch out the path that guides your target audience to your offer and then test, test, test to see what works best!

Note: It usually takes a bit of experimenting because some top-of-funnel content (blog posts, freebies, etc.) will work better than others and you’ll want to create multiple paths for your audience to find your offer too.

Whichever way you go, it’s important to create a sense of urgency.

If it’s just a low-priced offer that they can get any old time any old where they are unlikely to take action and become a customer quickly (the goal).

To create urgency for something that really isn’t scarce (a digital product can be sold an infinite number of times), the OFFER must be scarce and/or time-sensitive.

For that, you’ll need a couple of tools to create a limited-time offer. There are all kinds of expensive funnel products out there but with a bit of creativity you can easily set this up yourself to just get started with it.

3. The Email Tripwire Offer

The other way to do this is after they’ve signed up for your email list, to make them a limited-time offer and put the countdown timer right in the email itself. For that, you’ll need something like Deadline Funnels.

Keep in mind that when people opt-in to your mailing list, they’re MOST engaged in the initial emails you send them. When you send them a welcome email, you can make them a limited, one-time exclusive offer there.

Or, you might set up a welcome sequence where you build interest for your tripwire, warm them up to the idea, maybe offer it first without a timer, and then offer a “last chance at this price” email with a timer.

There are a lot of ways to go about this and I’d experiment a bit… if one method isn’t working, try another! That’s what conversion optimization is all about: testing and tweaking until you get a certain % of people raising their hands for the offer.

Then, once you get that sorted out, it’s just a matter of getting more people to that offer. (Another story for another day!)

I hope you found this helpful! Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments. Have fun with creating your tripwire marketing funnel, and before you go be sure to grab our Digital Product Launch Blueprint to help you create your irresistible offer!

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