What is positioning and why you can’t lose at it (Plus 10 essential resources and the X-ray of my process)

What is positioning and why you can’t lose at it (Plus 10 essential resources and the X-ray of my process)

It’s never a good time to think about it.

When business is up, you’re too busy with sales and delivery to examine it. In bad times, you’re too busy putting out fires or lost in invalidation, with no clear idea where to begin.

In either scenario, you are sitting on a foundation that holds or gives way depending on how strong you built it and how grounded you are in it.

It’s your position.

And if you are playing to win, you want to build it in your customers’ mind. If it’s not there, it doesn’t exist.

Read on for more about:

  • what it means to have a position or positioning and why it’s essential for your business;
  • why you cannot lose at the positioning game and what you need at the absolute minimum;
  • what key questions you need to ask about your business and your customer;
  • where even the big players can get it wrong and how to probe your way out;
  • what a positioning process looks like and what my go-to resources are.

 

Let’s start with what it means to have a position.

As a business, you make several choices to win. And choice is, in reductionist/lay terms, the definition of strategy.

Yes. The shortest definition of strategy is choice (for more on that, please read Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin).

The result of that strategy is you are in a certain point in space; where space is the industry you’re in, the market where you serve your customers.

This point in space is measured with KPIs that belong to the outside, material world: revenue, market share, etc. But I would like you to consider that these external things we measure are the manifestations or consequences (less woo-woo!) of a position that exists in the mind of your customers. That is the position you are building.

To be more precise, your position in the market is a reflection of your position in the mind of your customers. Here’s a question for you: where do you live in that realm?

 

You may have heard this: your brand is what they “gossip” about you when you leave the room. That “gossip” comes from a source: what the customers hold to be true about you in their mind. As much as you want to think your brand is more than that, unless you have proof from your customers, you are stating an aspiration or a goal for your position, not the reality.

If you want to find your place in your customers’ lives, you’re going to have to negotiate your way in. To do that, you’re going to need some solid one-liners for these questions:

 

Who are you and what do you stand for?

And where do you fit in their world? (adapted from Steve Jobs’s address in 1997 – check out 03:12 and 06:02)

In this cluttered world, you want to be really clear about it.​​​​​​​

To answer these questions, you need to be very clear about two things:

1. what the product does and who it’s for

2. why you’re the one doing it

Issue number one is, by the way, what positioning is, in the words of the master himself:

“I define [positioning] as what the product does and who it’s for. I could have positioned Dove as a detergent bar for men with dirty hands, but chose instead to position it as a toilet bar for women with dry skin. This is still working 25 years later” (David Ogilvy, circa 1980s).

 

So, “positioning is a strategic exercise. It defines where your product or service fits in the marketplace and how you want it to be known long-term. It also defines your key customer segments and buyer persona.” (source: Positioning vs. Messaging | Aha! Blog)

The result of positioning is a document (a positioning kit, if you work with me) that clearly states the unique benefit of your product or service and why it’s better than the competition. It is, otherwise put, the articulation of your differentiation.

Not to make this too academic, but:

“Positioning is, thus, the process of differentiating a product, service or company in the customer’s mind to obtain a strategic competitive advantage” (in other words, you want to stay top of mind for something). “It is the first step in building a brand.” (The Brand Gap, Marty Neumeier, 2006)

Yes, there is a direct correlation between differentiation and positioning. You position to differentiate. You differentiate with positioning. And you both position and differentiate to increase profit margin and avoid commoditization. That is, you do it to stay “you”, true to yourself and uniquely so, and, for lack of a better word, successfully.

The big unsaid is that you will compete where you can win.​​​​​​​

And if positioning sounds like a demigod speaking a brand into being (making it exist just because they say so), there is some truth to it. It’s how it starts, especially if you are a business of one. To endure, though, it needs to stand the test of the market.

But first, why did the demigod (aka you) do it? Which brings me to question number two: why you’re the one doing it.

The answer to issue number two is not just your motivation. Please abstain from jumping to that, although your motivation has, probably, a lot to do with it, again, especially if you are a business of one.

The correct answer to issue number two is what Steve Jobs called in August 1997 the hardest thing (watch from the beginning or jump at 01:28).

The hardest thing is to have your products “fit into a cohesive larger vision that’s going to allow you to sell X billion worth of product a year.” (Assuming you have billion dollar aspirations. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get to 6 figures. Or whatever your aspirations are.)

How do you get that cohesive larger vision?

In the words of Jobs, you:

“start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. What incredible benefits can you give to the customer? Where can you take the customer?”

 

If Steve Jobs calls this the hardest thing, please don’t expect it to be easy.

Are you compelled to blurt: why do you need positioning then?

I hear you.

Bluntly, because without positioning, you don’t exist.

Let me pause for dramatic effect.

If you don’t fit into your customer’s life and, again, for lack of a better word, successfully so, you don’t have a business.

 

So what do you need to win in the positioning game?

The real answer is: a client.

But until you begin to see proof of life from that client, you’re going to put one foot in front of the other and, at the absolute minimum, will need three things: a name, a value proposition, and a tagline.

Your name

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Said the world’s greatest bard. Shakespeare didn’t seem to have a soft spot for marketing (although he did have it for utility/purpose. What does a rose do for me seems to be his question here.) But then again, the marketplace was not that crowded in Elizabethan England.

To be in business you will need a name, even if, as a professional services consultant, your business name is your actual name.

There is a whole discussion whether to make your name the brand or not. In professional services, for that business of one, it will be hard not to have the two intersect. But if you build to grow and eventually exit, your name need not be on the banner.

Just choose.

Your value proposition

Your value proposition is where it gets tough. To get to it, you will first have to say what business you are in. What is the purpose of your activity other than to make money?

“There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer,” said Peter Drucker. “The process of creating a customer is a process of communicating your vision and values to the right set of customers in the market. […] Customers never buy just a product, they evaluate its value/utility and buy your vision.” (source: Myk Pono​, Strategic Communication: How to Develop Strategic Messaging and Positioning)

So if Nike is in business to help you find your inner athlete, to honour great athletes and great athletics (empower them with the latest innovation etc.), and you are a scaling consultant or a digital agency and create a value prop that says ‘we’re honouring growth,’ forget about it. So do another gazillion businesses out there, who say the same thing.

 

You need to be specific. What kind of growth? How are you doing that?

Everyone who’s a capitalist is honouring growth. You want to zoom in.

Bottomline, you need a fundamental reason to be in business beyond making money. And you want to state that purpose in 12 words or less (says Marty Neumeier and I definitely agree).

Once you know what your purpose is, you will need to get clear on your vision. Meaning, if you stay true to your purpose and keep acting towards it, what will the future bring? And if you were to travel to that future one specific day to take one snapshot, what would the snapshot show? State it in one sentence and you have your vision.

Here’s a vision: a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

Or: a computer in every home.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech is a direct description from that snapshot of the future. It states that vision. And more. It is also a conjuring. That kind of language calls such a future into being (another demigod move, yes), it creates something for everyone to believe in and want to be part of.

Yes, you want that kind of “I have a dream” speech for your organisation to rally the troops, even if it’s just you for now. (If you want one, reach out. I give my clients one with their positioning kit.)

Such words stir, move and convert, and are very, very precious.

Now, when you have a purpose and a vision, you are narrowing in on your UVP, or your trueline, or why your brand matters to customers.

Before you may be tempted to talk about your why, I want to call it: you need to stick to your customers’ why. Why do you matter to them? Why are they letting you into their world?

Your UVP will answer this one big question: what is the main benefit I get from working with/buying from you? (source: copyhackers.com).

It’s “the one thing you can say about your brand, based on your onliness statement. It must be something your competition can’t claim or (won’t) and something that your customers find both credible and valuable.” (Marty Neumeier, Zag, page 88)

Your UVP needs to be many things: accurate, complete, and big enough, to name a few.

A quick note about that big-enough factor…

“What you need is an idea big enough to hold you within and keep you thrilled and working/earning for a few decades.” Again, in the words of David Ogilvy…

“It will help you recognise a big idea if you ask yourself five questions:

1. Did it make me gasp when I first saw it?

2. Do I wish I had thought of it myself?

3. Is it unique?

4. Does it fit the strategy to perfection?

5. Could it be used for 30 years?”

Please don’t get crushed under the big-ness of it. You have it if you have it and you don’t if you don’t. Just make sure your expectations catch up.

So if your mission is “premier intelligence for the tech market,” what you mean is that understanding the impact of technology can change the world. Maybe it can accelerate the future (because people will know how to use that technology, we’ll iterate and upgrade faster etc.). Maybe it means that equipped with the right intelligence, your client’s company can change the world.

You mean that information is power and what’s needed for you to have that power, and not be Dorothy in the land of Oz, is to understand and prepare for what’s coming. What’s assumed is there is a storyteller/explainer/demystifier who will decode to the world what’s happening or going to happen, and that’s you.

Does that mission, stated as such, tick the boxes?

Is it accurate? Perhaps.

Is it complete? Unclear.

Is it big enough? It could be.

At this point, though, it’s vague. It needs what we call an angle.

What you want is one line of “prophecy” that gets your clients thinking about what you could do for them: “premier intelligence for the technology market” asks them to connect a lot of dots. How can you take this further? If you know what it is and who it’s for and it’s still unclear, what’s needed is the how, or the context. How does the tech market use that premier intelligence? What for?

No, it’s not an easy process. But once you have it, your purpose/mission and vision will not change (until fulfilled). Your UVP, however, is likely to evolve in time and geographies.

What is true for a global company may need to adjust in a distinct part of the world (“think global, act local” can actually mean this is our global UVP and this is what main benefits we are offering locally, this is the UVP for Central and Eastern Europe, for instance).

How do you know which is which?

You iterate, test with your customers, and narrow in.

A UVP that stands the test of voice of customer validation is worth gold. Because a better UVP means more conversions, and that means more business, more profit, and accelerated fulfilment of your vision.

How do you get a UVP?

The short answer: you book me.

The long answer starts with the words of another master:

“The correct solution is buried in the problem itself. It has never been written before. It cannot be produced by rote, carbon copy or mutations. But it can be sprung to the surface – automatically – by asking the right questions.” – Eugene M. Schwartz, Breakthrough Advertising

 

Again, we have a number of questions:

Where are you right now in your customer’s mind?

To figure that out, I:

1) immerse myself into the mind of the owner, creator, keeper of the hollies. “The first step in building a brand is to look inside and see where the raw energy will come from.” Marty Neumeier, Zag

2) dive deep into the mind of the customer: interviews, review mining, or surveys. In the words of the same Marty Neumeier, “the way to energize your company is to put a microscope on the need states of your customers.”

Who are you competing against, in the industry and outside of it? How are they unique?

For that, I:

1) do a light review of the competition’s messaging, and

2) lean on the interviews to reveal how customers solve their pain now.

As we go through these two steps, what insights bubble to the surface? Is something missing or too much of?

These are saplings for your positioning. Treat them with care. As we go through them, I will put forth candidates for your UVP to try on and state dilemmas to cut through. Now we word out your uniqueness.

Yes, but does it work?

That’s exactly why we test and validate. It can be as simple as a one-on-one conversation. Posting on social media, or a website re-write. Is it clear? Is it accurate? Is there traction?

I know all this time we spoke of UVPs (Unique Value Propositions), but I’m going to argue that two products or services can have the same UVP. To nail the uniqueness, you’re going to give that sentence extra power and upgrade to a Unique Selling Proposition (this is a great read for more on USPs).

To do that, we will zoom in on competitive factors. What sets you apart there? This is another point where voice of customer research might just hand your USP on a silver platter.

If you are a leadership coach for low six-figure professionals and your UVP is “Focus (with me) to double your business,” that’s a nice iteration way above professional echelons. It’s still unsubstantial. What does double the business mean? The number of clients? The total revenue? How about profit?

In the same space, The 90 day year is, probably, one of the crispest iterations: do in 90 days what you typically do in a year.

Even more specific would be a USP from a scaling consultant who says: 4x your profit in 12 months. (Full confession: yes, it’s done by yours truly)

Boom!

Your tagline

“Your customer tagline is translating the trueline or UVP into a more polished form.” And, states the rule book very clearly, you want one proposition per brand, no ands or commas.

The taglines will pop up like daisies if you ask these questions:

Who is the ideal customer? You want to describe them. Bring out that positioning kit. Oh, you don’t have one? Maybe we should work together.

What do they want? Again, the voice of customer research and the brand insights are priceless here. There’s a whole section in the positioning kit for them.

What is the benefit they are actually buying? Here’s where you get very physical. You want to paint the picture of how that benefit looks in the customer’s life.

If I sound like a broken record, it’s because you’ve heard these questions at least x times since you started reading this. There’s no escape from them. Not if you want to do this right.

I have found, to this day, Laura Belgray’s Tackle your tagline Cheat Sheet to be one of the most effective tools for writing taglines. It’s forever on my desk for tagline time. (And have heard quite a few fellow copywriters say the same. The cheat sheet is now a downloadable in The Copy Cure.)

 

A name. A UVP. A tagline.

Have these, and you’re ready to take the stage Steve Jobs style and disrupt like a demigod on steroids. Or a Tibetan monk on kale smoothies. Or a puppy Tik-Tok post on a Sunday night.

What it actually means is you’ll be ready to meet your client with grace and precision.

You’ll get to make your magic helping your people.

You’ll live your mission.

Do you know of anything better?

 

The thing that bonds us

The thing that bonds us

Dear Mr. Fukunaga,

This is, I should say, a love letter. I am, though definitely not a stalker, grateful you exist.

After all, for a long time, part of your name has been part of my password (one of them, anyway). I was then (and now) under the influence of Jane Eyre, Beast of no nation, and True Detective. Your mysterious smile may have helped. But the truth is I had another reason.

I’ll tell you in a bit.

And you’ll understand, I think, why with all this admiration, trust, and consequence floating around, I need to say a few words. Not a lot. The movie is complete and in theatres after what must have been emotionally loaded years. What’s done cannot be changed.

But since you’re involved with the story, the script, and the direction, you are its creator. The movie was yours to carry through.

(This is where you say: here it goes! You’re right, here it comes:)

Bond is, for lack of a better word, a modern mythology. Not as big as Star Wars, but still, powerful. 

We’re all under the spell of this charming spy (killer with charisma and at least sarcasm if not stand-up delivery) who sweeps us off our feet in his tux. 

In he comes, gets the outrageously gorgeous woman, kills the villain, saves the world without batting an eyelash, and smiles contentedly off some bridge. Mix in the reasonable splash of one-liners.

The end. 

Rinse. Repeat.

It’s what we show up for. 

The word cliche comes to mind.

But here’s that word again: myth. 

Yes, more like cliche’s smarter brother. Same family (and if you want impeccable context building for myth, Madeleine Miller comes to mind. Either Circe or The song of Achilles drive the point home safely).

Enough with the beating around the bush.

I’ll just say it: 007 cannot be a woman. 

Not because women couldn’t do it. But because the character was built by a man for a man, and damned, like Sisyphus, to play in the same movie, over and over again. 

Not only cannot a woman be 007, but no feminist woman should want the part (after almost 20 years as a woman in martial arts, I can own saying that).

To be a feminist is, after all, to show that women are just as important as men, not to show that they can be men, which I’m going to say they can’t.

For they are not.

And to pretend they can is, in the words of another dazzling and smart man such as yourself, to contribute to the misfortunes of the world.

(To be accurate, Albert Camus – your brother in spirit, or at least a cousin, I’d say – said: “to misname a thing is to contribute to the misfortunes of the world.” But I digress.)

Not only should a woman not be 007, but for the love of God, not a black woman. If there is anything to learn from Black Lives Matter is that there is a whole culture the BLM community stands for, with their own stories, their references, which deserve to be known and respected. To bend and stretch them to a largely white culture is to invite procrustean (myths again!) (and colonial) schizophrenia.

It also means to give up hope that there can be another spy/sleek world saviour out there, a woman, with a different name, different tactics, and certainly a different seduction playbook, and that one day, she will enchant us for a few hours in a dark room.

In the meantime, I will pass on the mortality and legacy undertones.

Bond is there to make us believe the world can be saved, and give a quantum of hope the villain, however evil, will be surpassed.

What was the point of the garden, what the women were doing in the industrial water, and why it dissolved human flesh but not rubber are, now, details or, in a different iteration, agenda for another time.

When I started out my company I knew I could be the kind of copywriter/thinking head that fixes the typos, adds the metaphors, comes up with angles, or works the idea.

The idea work is always the most exciting. It’s where you get to throw it around and see if it flies.

What’s it for and who will warm up to it (positioning in marketing jargon).
What the adventure ahead might be.

I guess that makes me a copywriter who’s a product person, and the product is, many times, an idea.

But here’s why you’re special in my story, and why I’m grateful you exist. 

I started this to work with people like you.

The thinkers. The artists. The generals.

Sometimes, they’re, like you, film directors.

Sometimes, they’re tech entre and intrapreneurs.

And sometimes they’re just another understated rock star, quietly expanding the frontier of their industry.

They know they’re on to something, but haven’t quite cracked it yet. And it just might be a game-changer.

That’s when my inbox pings.

And I get to put my A-game on to power up theirs. I wish anyone would be as lucky.

So thank you.

Really.

13 life lessons from my first 5 years in business as a solopreneur – Part 2

13 life lessons from my first 5 years in business as a solopreneur – Part 2

This will take you about 20 minutes to read. So make sure it’s for you.

Here’s how you can tell:

  • You’re a solopreneur (or freelancer) overwhelmed with marketing yourself. Where does this writing frenzy end, you wonder. And will it actually bring you business?
  • You’re a mid-sized business with budgets out of agency range, in a market where CMO talent is rare to non-existent. You do the best you can with what’s available.
  • You’re a thought leader with lots of experience in the field but without the personal branding tool kit. You have results nobody can possibly contest. You want more spread for your magic.
  • You have precious assets that could sell internationally. If only you had marketing that doesn’t scream Eastern Europe.
  • You’re a productivity addict and sooo into crisp, punchy copy.

Have you checked any of the boxes?

Read on, I might just have good stuff for you.

Before we get to it, you know there’s a part 1, right? Read that first here.

You need a routine

Something you do every morning.

Do it for enough days (66 they say) until it’s a habit and you no longer spend a dime of willpower on it.

Here’s my sequence: drag out of bed, brush my teeth and my nose (a must if you’re the sinus infection-prone type, a savior, I promise), then off to yoga for 30. In the living room, that is.

I already know what I’m doing. I have a playlist on my subscription site. I don’t need to think. Just do.

Then put the kettle on and make cocoa. With it, I go to the laptop, straight to 750words.com. I pour my mind out there for 750 words. Hence the title. No thinking required.

Occasionally I catch a streak and I copy-paste stuff at the end in my writing docs.

But mostly, it’ll be ranting about something. Mantras like “I need to figure this out.” “I need to do this better.”

That sort of thing. Yes, it’s probably Favella (you know who she is, ’cause you’ve read Part 1, right?).

It needs to come out there, so it doesn’t pop out later.

– Bring it on, Favella, it’s your time to shine. Then go back to your box, will you?

Sometimes I also meditate for 15, right at the end of the yoga thing. Or after the words.

Which is when I go to breakfast and may binge on youtube.

Once I check that, I sit at my desk.

Want some extra points out of reading this? Take a pen and paper and list yours.

You need to track your day

No guilt-tripping. Just knowing.

You need to know, on average, when you actually start work.

For how long you focus. When you actually start having ideas. That kind of thing.

For years I used Chrome’s browsing history, estimating here and there.

One of my teachers recommended RescueTime.

I didn’t get much use of the free version, to be honest. On a spree, I got one year’s subscription at a discount. I’m beginning to see the light.

I have a goal for deep work for four hours per day.

Because, it turns out, we only have four hours of quality work per day in us anyway.

It’s all in this book I got as compulsory reading from a strategy masterclass. It’s completely worth your time. If you don’t have seven hours to give it, just go to the mattresses:

Don’t plan for more than four hours of quality work per day. You just don’t have it. Or you’ll be a zombie the next day.

I don’t always meet my number. But I see what I do by the hour and can update my turnaround times.

You’ll need those, too, by the way.

They’re numbers and come as answers to the question of “How long does it take me to do X?”.

Because you’ll need systems. You can’t reinvent the wheel over and over again.

Give each day a theme

Marketing is on Wednesdays for me. It’s the only day I deal with marketing stuff.

On Thursday, if I have a marketing idea, I put on the to-do list and I look at it next week. It gives me some structure.

Not much gets done without.

And even on marketing days, if I don’t do much because the task is vague and I can’t get it together, I still acknowledge it was a marketing day and I did not get things done.

It’s called holding space. Hello, creation jargon!

No names dropping, but big fancy CEOs have been doing it for years.

You need 3 to 5 recipes on heavy rotation

Because you’ll need to have meals taken care of. And unless you have a chef or a family-run restaurant around the corner, I strongly suggest meal prep.

I learned that from my health coach client and have been thanking her ever since. You do the cooking once a week, maybe Sunday. And you put everything in casseroles, ready to serve.

My go-to’s: roasted veggies. Eggplant, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, or pumpkin. Cut them in cubes, with oil, salt, and pepper at the minimum or more herbs if you’re a pro, and shove them into the oven.

Add a side of greens with seeds and vinaigrette and roasted meatloaf.

(Got me here, I love pork. I run on pork, chocolate, broccoli, roasted veggies, and lentils, actually.)

And grains. Rice, lentils, buckwheat, or you name it. And boiled eggs a bit runny in the yoke (you get that if you boil them for 4-5 minutes).

And apple galette.

But you get bored of things. So you may need to shuffle up. That’s what zucchini bread is for. Oatmeal with cinnamon. Or sea bream in a salt crust.

You get the idea.

You need a power playlist

Or at least one song to play on repeat when you’re getting a wave off the ground. Like some mantra, it will rock your mind and flip that inner switch.

Before you know it, you’re flowing into deep work.

Here’s a few of my lucky bets: Sailing ships from White Snake, Pink’s Who knew, ACDC’s Are you ready, the intros of House of Cards and Westworld, almost anything James Taylor, and the soundtrack of Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy.

And Mulan’s. (The cartoon from decades ago, that is.)

(Please don’t ask. I’ve been practicing a contemporary martial art for 18 years now. I can’t help it.)

Enough with the soft stuff, let’s go back to the main field:

Online courses market with best avatar results. Is that you?

After investing in them enough to pay off half of my remaining mortgage (I’ve just realized that OMG, I could have shaved how many years off my plan?) I have a thing or two to say:

No course gets you results if you don’t do the work.

You know that.

But also,

the course’s marketing is based on results from people who aced it. And they aced it for at least two reasons: they were the kind of person who benefit most from that kind of course, AND they did the work.

Not every business growth course is equal.

Some are for people or businesses who already have a hot Facebook community. If you’re not one of those, selling high tickets to a group of five, one of whom is your mother, might not work out.

Other courses are for people or businesses who have lists of emails they’ve groomed for years. At least 2,000 fans or so.

Don’t apply if you’re not there yet.

If the creator is for real, you’re not getting admitted anyway.

A word of caution about those dedicated Facebook communities.

Most people will look like they have it together big time. Few actually do.

They will post high flyer insights and outrageously priced offerings until you’ll read they have to live out of the car as of next month.

You can’t really blame them for wanting to look good to the course leader and to the community. Just don’t believe everything you read.

Stick to your guns and resist the temptation to doubt yourself.

Also,

Look up the success stories. Do they sound like you? Are they facing the same kind of to-dos you’re dealing with?

Then decide for yourself and save yourself the trouble. Fancy sales pages are there to lure you, of course. They’re written by professionals like me.

But save yourself the trouble and resist the bling thing.

Your WHY matters to you. Not necessarily to others.

I know there’s a huge crowd out there chanting to the Simon Sinek tune: start with your why.

And you do start with your why. It’s what sets you into motion.

But your clients might not be so interested. Not unless it’s deeply connected to what they want.

What do I mean by that?

Here’s what I want, as much as I can articulate it: I had the arrogant claim (that comes with these highly evolved times we live in) that I should love what I do every day.

So instead of working to make it till my next holiday, every day should feel like one.

Find what you love doing and you’ll never work a day in your life. Remember?

Well, kind of like that, but with real bills to pay.

We’re going to call that living the mission.

I want that.

And I have walked away from corporate scripts and titles to do that. Life has a way of rearranging itself so you do. And if you resist, it smacks you over the head. (I’m not reading this from the playbook, by the way.)

I’ll have my spirit awake and busy, FYI.

I want to live the mission and I want life to use me. It’s why I’m here.

Also, I have this outrageous itch to be able to connect and be great with whoever comes my way.

Not just my besties. Everyone. I guess I want to be able to walk into everyone’s world and talk to them like we’re equals. Maybe even jam.

Remember Al Pacino in The devil’s advocate? Street-smart like that, but on the bright side.

Also, not the kind that gets impressed with some pompous what’s-his-name because they’re flashing bling, wounds, or titles at me.

I’m here to be real and great with people.

And after 17 years or so as a corporate power dresser and marketing and sales wonder worker, I took a long hard look at what I can put out there into the world, rather than share other people’s pictures of cats.

It’s a mix of strategy, coaching, and copywriting. I call it positioning and copywriting for thought leaders.

Do you really care why I do it or do you want me to nail it for you and that’s enough? You tell me. For real, tell me in the comments. I actually really, really want to know.

Please don’t come to me with the usual suspects. You know them, the cardboard words. I don’t understand a thing.

Here’s how you know if you want to work with me.

Do you want aliveness?

Like, real-life conversation. People talking to people. With the occasional spice. I was going to say flamboyance. I say that. Sometimes. Not always.

So anyway, do you? If you do, we just might hit it off.

Oh, and don’t tangle up in The Force. Let if flow freely.

Which means all of what I’ve just said but also this: don’t hold up sh*t.

Go through it and clean your room.

Before you do, though…

13 life lessons from my first 5 years in business as a solopreneur – Part 1

13 life lessons from my first 5 years in business as a solopreneur – Part 1

This will take you about 20 minutes to read. So make sure it’s for you.

Here’s how you can tell:

  • You’re a solopreneur (or freelancer) overwhelmed with marketing yourself. Where does this writing frenzy end, you wonder. And will it actually bring you business?
  • You’re a mid sized business with budgets out of agency range, in a market where CMO talent is rare to non-existent. You do the best you can with what’s available.
  • You’re a thought leader with lots of experience in the field, but without the personal branding tool kit. You have results nobody can possibly contest. You want more spread for your magic.
  • You have precious assets that could sell internationally. If only you had marketing that doesn’t scream Eastern Europe.
  • You’re a productivity addict and sooo into crisp, punchy copy.

Have you checked any of the boxes?

Read on, I might just have good stuff for you.

Have you heard the story of the corporate high flyer turned entrepreneur?

That would be me.

After 17 years in marketing and selling an Eastern European film studio to Hollywood producers, public utility TV campaigns that won all the right prizes and fundraising for UNICEF, I decided to make the switch.

It seems a lifetime away now, five years and an intensive diet of entrepreneurial and online marketing courses later.

I wish someone told me what you’ll read below, from the “yes, mom” kind of tips to insider info on how to deal with The Force.

No, I’m not a huge Star Wars fan. But The Force is still The Force, whatever you call it.

(I know it sounds a bit on the edge. I promise you it isn’t. I’m a movie girl turned conversion copywriter. And nothing tells a story like the movies.)

Let’s get to it.

In your little corner of the world, you’re the ultimate maker.

Can you think of any envy rants about life as a freelancer? How about that one with the lazy mornings?

The chorus line goes a bit like “I can’t believe your freedom.” My clients say that to me. A lot.

Which is when I say:

“Actually, I’m a company of one.”

Yes, sometimes you can sleep in on grey mornings. And you’ll be up at midnight just as well. Here’s what doesn’t get said on the subject:

A job isn’t just a pay check. It’s a network of things wiring through your life.

And when you’re on your own, you’ll have to work hard not just at doing the things that give you the pay check.

You’ll need to build that invisible wire, too. The net. The container.

You don’t really see it, unless you reach out for what should be there and isn’t, because you didn’t make it. That’s when you feel the void and a new, vague to-do lands in.

It sound like this: “who is my ideal client, anyway?”, or “how will they hear about me?”, or “my marketing should be better.”

It can take months or years until you actually get what you should do for that. And you might know it in theory. It needs to land, though. And that takes time, I promise you.

You basically need two things: mindset and systems. And you’re in charge of both.

That includes the cheering up, the vision setting, all the boring meetings you dragged your feet to and checked your phone for most of the time.

Now you have to create the materials, set it up, attend and cheer in stride. Also, the procedures. Until further notice, you are in charge of operations. Also, marketing, sales, product and delivery.

You may not ace all of them. That would be really hard. But you can go for the essentials. For what moves the needle.

And welcome to your new jargon.

Moving the needle tops all the charts.

Before you go through the terra bytes you’ll find on the issue, let me give you the short version:

Have an idea, get it in front of your client and see if it works, then make it better.

Give them the best you’ve got.

And iterate till the cows come home.

Everything else is ancillary, social media plans included.

(Business models vary of course.)

So, social media will matter only if it’s an actual way of getting in front of your client. Otherwise it is what it is. Trap. Pacifier. Time killer. Digital cigarette. Etc.

Handle this well, and at the end you’ll have lists of actions booked in advance in your calendar and drills to go with them.

And when a new client comes along, or when you need to go for leads, you’ll have a better idea of what you actually need to do and how long it takes you and your team to actually do them.

As for operations, one of the most valuable things I’ve ever learned was in The 90 Day Year:

(full disclosure: I’m in to be an affiliate for that. Meaning if you buy it through me, I get a commission and you get my bonuses. I think the program is completely worth your time and money. And if you click this link and sign up, I’ll tell you more about it in private.)

 

You’ll look for who’s got it. Or whatever can check you out.

Cats. Or dogs. Those always do the trick. (Which makes me think that even in 200 years time, they will still rule.)

You’ll actually compare yourself to others. I know you know you shouldn’t but you still do. Unless you’re a really lucky sort and we almost hate you for it.

I did compare myself endlessly to people in New York. Or to people who’ve been in business three times as long as I have. Nothing good came of it. My therapist was patient, though.

Chances are you’ll look for people who’ve made it before you.

You might actually have a crash on some.

And that’s fine.

Time will make you see cracks through their postcard perfect posts. And with every disappointment, you will grain an ounce of courage to be your voice, come what may.

You may actually even unfollow some. And that’s how you know you’re on the right track.

You live the mission, and money for fill-in-the-blanks shows up.

I came to think that after years on stressing out about money.

Affectionate, mostly concerned about money, my 750words.com dashboard analysis said to me day in, day out, for months. (More on that in a bit, in the routine section.)

But, yes, I was obsessed about not having enough. Actually, about the possibility of not having enough.

It took years to figure out I had not missed a single payment, had been to Japan twice, invested almost as much as an MBA in my entrepreneurial education. And I was still freaked out.

Now, I do UX copy. Voice of customer. I take pride I don’t write a single word without seeing what the client actually thinks.

So I looked at my own data. Checked the vitals. My mind was all over the place. My finances were actually reasonably well.

Every time I needed something, it somehow came together. So I decided that was The Force holding me. And decided to give into it.

Rather than stress out about money, I would actually think about something else: how can I be useful? Is my work useful to anyone? How?

And when the freaked out voice was going for a solo on how I’d be on the streets, I decided to play the trump card: the big book says The Big Guy knows I need stuff and will provide. Let’s not criticise before He’s had a chance to do the job.

“People make it through hard times in two ways,” my therapist had said: “they believe in God or they believe in themselves. You have a faith crisis.” I did.

Getting past that is no small feat. It helps to have the eyes on the prize: the chance to be you.

To say what you actually want. Because you do, anyway. And otherwise it will siphon into dreams and Freudian slips. What the heck. Just do it.

The little voice inside your head (you know which one) will say you can’t.

I’m giving it to you straight. You can’t silence it. But you can name the effer. It’s a villain alright.

Now here’s another piece of final truth:

There’s no villain without a super hero. None.

So name the villain. And the hero.

Write the villain first. He or she will define your hero.

I got that from Dan Brown’s Masterclass. (Masterclass.com, by the way, is amazing.)

I actually want you to sit down and write what your villain and hero are like. What they say. Who that voice belongs to. What you think they look like. Do they smoke? Do they have a lisp?

My villain: Favella Belittle.

Since she always insists other people are better than me. I gave her a big ass. Felt better, too.

The superhero: Belinda Fragette.

No idea how I came up with these names. (Actually, I have a secret about that, too. I’ll write about it soon). She’s Frenchy French, has a huge mustard coat and detects BS by a mile.

Also, she’s totally game for books, manicures and steak tartare.

I googled Fargette. It turns out there was a French mafia dude with that name. No connection. My Fargette stays on the bright side.

You’ll actually feel The Force.

It’s not just some Maz Kanata sh*t. It is. But it isn’t.

If your work calls to you like the Jedi sword, then you are a hero on a journey. And on that journey, at some point, you will feel the Force.

“It moves through and surrounds every living thing. Close your eyes. Feel it. It’s always been there. It will guide you.”

– Maz Kanata

Sooner or later, you will reach what will seem like rock bottom. And that’s when you might just feel around the edges of your will to live.

That would be, more precisely, your drive to be part of this big thing called life, whomever may be in yours.

You’ve seen it in so many movies, you’re probably sick of it already. Here’s the difference in real life.

There’s no score.

Most times you’ll be in bed at night, corpse posture, eyes on the ceiling, working out ways to breathe, your mind racing on fear scripts. What if clients don’t come out of nowhere? What if you won’t make the next mortgage payment? What if you just don’t have it?

Putting clothes on and going through the usual will feel like a victory. And it actually will be. Which is why you’ll need your routines in place. They’ll get you out of the darkest pit.

More on that later.

Back to the rock bottom.

If you’re alive, you’re a knot in a network that invested you with meaning: faith, feelings, use or simply habit. Meaning warm bodies who believe, love, need or got used to you.

At that rock bottom moment, whatever you do to climb out will be either for those other people, or for your deepest of selves.

You’ll get through one more day to not give them one more thing to worry about.

Or because if this were to be the end, you still have a fight or two inside you. And you’re not done quite yet.

That’s The Darkest Hour kind of moment.

I love the scene in the actual movie.

Churchill and King George sit on the sofa, shot from behind. Churchill is terrified.

But hear me out, that’s when there’s always a flicker of light. And for him it’s a stuttering king who extends a hand and says “I will work with you no matter what. I’ll stand by you.”

It’s what makes the actual difference. In your darkest hour, you are not alone. Fear not.

That’s one of the times you will actually see The Force.

Breathe It in.

And get in line with It.

Now, about the routines…

There will be days you will rule the world. Wake up clear in the head, go straight to the laptop and pour that proposal out of you. You may even focus for over 4 hours.

That’s rare for me. But I’ve done it with brain.fm. It works for me that way.

And there will be others when your day will not amount to much. Chain youtubing, maybe, and dog videos on Facebook.

Five years of traps later, I boiled it down to this wisdom…

… which is when Scheherazade would strategically break for intended suspense.

As do I.

I’ll be back soon. Just keep your eyes peeled to my blog.

Before you go, though…

Why you don’t stand out from the competition

Why you don’t stand out from the competition

You’re not new at this.

In fact, you might be your clients’ best kept secret weapon.

You’re transacting expertise and trust articulated in a VERY particular way.

Not blunt, not tongue in cheek. Yours is a legit industry. You want your website to stay professional.

But unlike Australia these days, word of your work doesn’t spread like fire.

Here’s why that might be.

In live dialogue.

The transcript, by the way, is 100% real.

CLIENT: In our [FILL IN THE BLANKS WITH INDUSTRY], it’s all about the quality of the staff.

ME: Say more.

CLIENT: We engage as an organisation with a team of people to provide a set of services, we have to be actively engaged with our client.

ME: Is this what your competitors say?

CLIENT: Yes, for the most part I think that’s what they would.

ME: Then it’s not going to be effective, will it?

CLIENT [PAUSES]: …

[MISSING BITS OF WHERE WE DO THE MAGIC WORK.]

CLIENT: Everyone is going to say they’re going to be on time. Everyone’s going to say they’re going to be under budget, AND everyone’s going to say they’re going to meet schedule… but rarely does anyone actually do it.

ME: Can we actually say that?

CLIENT [LAUGHS]: …yeah.

ME: …also, about the solutions part… Everyone delivers solutions. All your competitors do. I deliver solutions as a copywriter. I doubt your clients actually say “I need a solution,” and even if they do, we’re going to have to dive deeper and see what kind of solution.

It’s like saying: do you know the theory of relativity exists? Whereas what we want to say is “did you know time is something only exists on a 100 m radius?”.

[END OF TRANSCRIPT]

Wait, that’s waaay too nerdy.

But you get the point.

It’s like telling someone who needs the best tomato sauce out there for their lasagne that there’s this thing called tomatoes.

They know that. What they’re after is the magic tomato sauce.

Do you have any of that?

I thought I you might.

You’ve had so much of it you no longer see it. Like the fish that doesn’t see the water.

Which is fine. It’s where I come in.

Let’s talk about it. I’ll get the YOU-ness out of you and onto the paper. Or website. I promise.

To Cannes or not to Cannes

To Cannes or not to Cannes

I just feel I get tricked a lot. By myself. Mostly, I solve the wrong problem.

Or I get seduced by something, like a kiddo in a candy store.

Facebook or youtube stuff that looks interesting. Fashion, endless rows of clothes or moisturisers with the promise of younger skin. As if I was getting any younger.

Books, or stories. Truth tellers can be seducing in themselves, it’s as if being under an all protecting bell of knowledge. I feel safe in there, but in lasts very little. I get distracted.

Or by plans to do something, someday.

One day I will take the whole day just to figure out what I want.

It will never happen.

And if it does, you’ll have to confront, for the first 30 minutes at least, if you can endure that long, that only stupid cliches come to mind and there’s no clarity to speak of.

A coffee addict without the daily dose, rambling on for the magic button.

There isn’t one.

In the meantime, obviously, there’s no joy.

It’s just meaningless trajectories to consume, spend, conjure dreams of spending some more.

Wouldn’t it be nice to go to Cannes, buy expensive shoes and go on a yacht? It would. Sort of. But not much.

The adrenaline of something new, really new, the zero to one kind of new, will always beat that.

If you have the bug, that is.

If you don’t, then Cannes is it. Or whatever else is in the same industry as Cannes.

But if you’ve got it, if you are after something new, then nothing will appease. Not shoes, not moisturisers, not yachts.

Here’s what has a chance, or so I think: ideas and people that produce them. Nerds like you. Or me. Putting puzzles together with them. That does it.

Because sooner or later, something will pop. Most times it won’t. But you can take it. You don’t do it for the most times.

And you are fine doing it for the most times and not getting much out of it.

I mean you should allow for it. Plan for it. Plan for something you want bad enough so the frustration doesn’t wear you off and turn you bitter or worse, ready to go into the world mixer of me toos.

Because, you know, you may have to.

There are bills to pay and life is short etc. And you may have people depending on you, and that’s hard. Everyone understands that.

Except you, if you have the bug.

Deep down, you know that’s selling short. And you know it takes so much courage to not go against you. The boring kind, the one you have to materialise every day, when there’s no money for bills or there is, but you’d also like to go on vacation and how will that happen?

It’s not easy.

Mostly, if you had one wish, it was actually to solve the correct problem.

Not the one that brings the most money now, not the one that brings peace now, the one that’s THE problem, the real battle, that’s the one you want to pick.

Are you creating value? Are you also retaining it?

Or are you just wasting time and neurones creating something that gets sold, even in large quantities, at little profits?

That’s called living for yesterday. Or like there’s no tomorrow, because literally, there is no future to that. It’s called the slavery of consumption.

No spark. No future. The future will happen after you abandon all that and actually give it a go at creating something new.

If you have the bug. If you don’t, it’s fine, Cannes is nice. Especially in the summer, or so I remember. Occasionally it’s even glam.

But that’s not you and, hell, it’s definitely not me.

So what’s there to do?

I don’t have it, I have no formula. For things like these, the best you can hope for is principles and questions. And the people to bounce them at and play ball with.

Otherwise, you’re back on the wheel, building offerings and pitching around for clients. You may even get them. And that’s going to keep you arrested until you collide with something of purpose.

It could even come disguised in agony or catastrophe. Here’s a small one: the budgeting season’s coming and you have no new website.

That’s not what you should worry about.

“Do I create any real value?” is what should stop your game.

And until you have the answer to that, you can put off the offering and start answering.

Make it quick, though.

I can help.

Give me a call.

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