How to get clients: Mistake 3 (marketing channels)

Old TV

I want to tell a couple stories relating to how to get clients, but before I do that, I need to talk briefly about marketing channels. A marketing channel is simply a way for a business to connect with its market. Common marketing channels are television, radio, billboards, yellow pages, newspaper classified ads, etc.

Now, on to the stories

When I was a kid, TV’s were a piece of furniture, and we considered ourselves lucky to get a whopping 8 channels on our TV.

If you were a business that wanted to reach lots of people, you advertised on one of those channels–well maybe on 7 of those channels, since the 8th channel was PBS (which meant they ran no advertising).

I happened to grow up in Detroit, just across the river from Windsor, Canada (and, incidentally, my childhood home was just a couple hundred yards from where the FBI recently dug for Jimmy Hoffa’s body). Anywho, if you were a business that wanted Canadian customers, then you really only had 1 channel–the offshoot Canadian TV channel with its odd programming.

However, even though there were only 8 channels to watch, if you were a business trying to reach customers, you had a good shot at reaching tons of people, since the entire population of the metro Detroit-Windsor area was limited to watching just those 8 channels.

Contrast that with another story

In 1931 during the depths of the Great Depression, Ted Hustead, opened a general store in a tiny South Dakota town (population: 766 desperately poor people). Ted barely scraped by for 5 years–5 years!–until he stumbled onto a way to bring in a flood of customers.

Hustead eventually grew his tiny store into a $10-million-dollar empire–which still operates exclusively from the same, tiny town.

His secret? Free ice water.

Hustead’s discovery was 2-fold:

  • he accessed a powerful marketing channel, and
  • gave people what they were literally thirsty for.

Now, what do these stories have to do with consulting?

How can understanding marketing channels help you get clients?

One of the top mistakes consultants make is not understanding marketing in general–which, again, is simply part of the error of thinking your skills are important rather than what problems you can solve.

More specifically, most consultants don’t realize that they need to find and tap into marketing channels that are specific to their niche.

Sure, you could pay thousands for billboard space, a yellow pages ad, or even urinal advertising. (By the way, this will hopefully be the first and last time I use the words “urinal” and “thirsty” in the same article…).

And if you’ve tried any those mass-market channels and actually gotten clients for your consulting business, I’ll buy you a dozen donuts. Literally. Try me.

The problem with most traditional marketing channels is that they’re way too broad. You’ve (hopefully) already identified a very specific niche; so, spending money reaching masses of people as if you’re, say, McDonalds, is just a waste.

It’d be far better to think like your ideal client–someone who’s actually representative of your target market–and figure out how to reach them.

And, for now, for God’s sake, stop thinking about virtually ALL traditional marketing channels. Those channels are just the ones you’re most familiar with, mainly because you’ve grown up seeing them thousands–maybe millions–of times.

Think instead about far more targeted channels like:

  • e-mail
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • direct mail (no, not some 40,000-piece mailing)
  • trade shows
  • conferences

Your niche and ideal client profile will lead you toward marketing channels, so if you’re stuck, go back and think about your ideal client.

Or rather, think LIKE your ideal client.

Get inside their head.

Imagine you’re them.

If someone needed to find you, what are all the ways they could do that?

Right now

If you found ANY value in this or any of the articles in this series, add a comment below on what was most valuable or what specifically you’ve struggled with in trying to get clients.

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sipeki - June 20, 2013 Reply

Business with many products or services may have many different ideal clients. If resources, time and money, are scarce often one channel has to be chosen that reaches as many of this clients in one go.

    Greg Miliates - June 20, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for your comment–that’s a great question. Like you mentioned, having multiple opportunities can make it difficult to choose which to pursue.

    To reduce overwhelm, you can test to validate the potential for just a couple opportunities, rather than looking at all opportunities at the same time. Target your efforts on the 1 or 2 with the greatest potential, then do the same kind of testing with different marketing channels.

Dave - June 20, 2013 Reply

This was a helpful article and has made me think about inbound vs outbound marketing and if I should be doing more cold emails and LinkedIn messages. In the early stages, did you find more clients or did they find you?

    Greg Miliates - June 21, 2013 Reply

    Thanks! And BTW, the concepts of inbound vs. outbound marketing are things that most consultants aren’t familiar with–but are powerful concepts to help direct your marketing efforts.

    Great question. In the early stages, virtually nobody will know about you, so most of your marketing will be outbound (i.e., reaching out to prospects). However, you’ll also want to cultivate inbound channels, since over time, those inbound channels will essentially automate your marketing.

      Dave - June 22, 2013 Reply

      Thanks. BTW, do you have headshot suggestions? Yours is good – do you need to spend a lot for a good one?

        Greg Miliates - June 24, 2013 Reply

        Funny you ask. My headshot is actually from a family portrait we did a couple years ago–I just clipped myself out from the rest of the photo. Bootstrapping. 🙂

        You probably already have a headshot you can use. Just look for something with a very simple background and even lighting. Since you don’t need anything high-resolution, don’t worry too much about it–just get it done so it looks reasonably professional. If you really need something better later, you can pay to have it done–by a student photographer or someone else reasonably competent.

        Like any bootstrapping, look for quick and inexpensive/free ways to get what you need.

Integrio - June 20, 2013 Reply

Market segmentation 🙂 Nice, Thanks Greg

    Greg Miliates - June 21, 2013 Reply

    Market segmentation may not be something you need to do at first–especially if you’ve narrowed down your niche enough.

    For example, in my niche (small/mid-sized law firms using a specific enterprise software application), I don’t NEED to segment my market. However, I’ve found that some segments of my market have problems that are common within each segment. Segments in my niche would be firms that practice different types of law, e.g., personal injury vs. bankruptcy/foreclosure vs. intellectual property, etc. When I talk to a prospect in a particular segment, I can ask them about specific problems I’ve seen others in their segment struggle with (and for which I have a solution).

    Thanks for your comment!

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