I know most folks in freelance businesses focus on what they have to offer, presenting their services like products on a shelf in the store and advertising the availability and quality of those same services through social media and/or advertising.
But before you put those services on the shelf, make sure you’ve asked a couple of why questions, or you may miss out on the keys to a good customer-provider relationship.
Why are you doing this thing (or things)?
Right, so you thought I’d start with the customer’s needs. Nope. If you don’t have core values underpinning what you do, you won’t get very far in whatever business you choose, including publishing-related ones.
Look, lots of people are doing editing, proofreading, book design, and some are even doing book indexing (which is where I started). What makes your services unique will be found in the answer to the why question. Because it speaks to your values as a service provider.
So, time to spit out your core values. What facets of your service give you the most satisfaction? These will be clues to your business values. Maybe it’s accuracy, maybe it’s speed, maybe both (!). Maybe it’s your sunny personality via email. Notice that these “facets” are not names of your products or services.
Just to give you a starting off point, here are my top four core values: quality, responsiveness, flexibility, understanding (of the customer’s subject). I take the time to produce a quality editorial assessment; I am checking email all day every day and responding promptly; got a delay in manuscript or page proof availability? I’ll work with you; wondering if I can truly understand what you are trying to say as an author? I’ve got the intellectual and empathic talents to “get you.”
So, what are your top four? You can also add a couple more, but try not to make this a long list.
Also, what’s your vision, for yourself and your business, that is? You will want to check in with this vision at least once a year, because it may shift. I know mine has. I used to be focused on my book indexing business, but am now more into manuscript evaluation and copyediting activities. My vision is to help an author see their story from a savvy reader’s point of view, the kind of reader who will become a fan (like the fans of Game of Thrones!), who will be hooked into their story, whether fiction or nonfiction.
What’s your vision? One sentence, please, with no more than two clauses or three modifying phrases.
Once you see what you are in this for (and therefore find your passion in it), then you can ask, what’s the customer in it for?
If you look at my website front page, you’ll see under my intro that I focus on the needs of potential clients. I don’t just list what services I provide; I actually write out the questions as if I were a potential client.
Think about it. When someone comes to your website, what are they thinking? Right, they are thinking about a problem they want to solve or a goal they want to reach. The question is whether or not you can help them with that.
Remember, unlike the folks at Nabisco, who have pretty packaging and sweetness or saltiness to create a need in their customers, we have to start with the need they bring to our site. So, I think it’s most effective to start with an understanding of that need. Then you can show them how you will fill it.
Think about what questions folks may come to you with, show them you have anticipated their need, and then link them to the place where their need can be fulfilled, and since this is a service business, also how you will be a good match for filling that need. If you’ve taken care of the why question in the first section of this post, you will know how to attract a good customer match.
Work these two aspects together (why you are here and what needs you can fulfill), and you will find your most suitable customers.
From the Shepherd’s Satchel
And here’s some grounded inspiration to apply your vision to: your logo. Pamela Wilson of Big Brand System has a quick method for getting from concept to clean logo design. Please note that you have to make sure you’ve got a vision statement to start (see above!) and then you can move on to design. More here.
After all this visioning and needs-meeting, it’s good to get back to the nuts and bolts. One of my very favorite proofreaders and bloggers has some excellent advice for beginning writers in particular. Her guidance will save you both time and money in getting your own written expression polished for publication. Check out Louise’s wisdom here.