I know most folks in freelance businesses (in publishing or elsewhere) 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.
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 or book index; 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 in order to build an index? I’ve got the intellectual talents to “get” your subject.
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 book indexing, but am now expanded into copyediting and taxonomy activities.
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 PI’s website front page, you’ll see under the intro that we focus on the needs of potential clients. We don’t just list what services we provide; we provide an introduction from the point of view of the customer’s need.
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.