The Worst Strategy Ever Devised for Selling Your Services
By Bob Bly
The other day I got an e-mail from JT, a professional proofreader, who expressed her grave concern that she had found more than one typo among the dozens of websites I own.
“Can I be direct without being offensive?” asked JT. “Let me start by saying that my only reason for writing this e-mail is that I want to work with you, because I think we could both benefit from collaboration.”
JT continued: “You need a new proofreader – and if you do your own proofreading, you need to fire yourself from that job!”
Did I hire JT as my new proofreader?
No. Because I did, in fact, find her e-mail to be both offensive and self-serving. Yet many freelancers and independent contractors who render creative, professional, and technical services take a similar approach to self-marketing. And it almost never works.
The basis of this horribly inappropriate and ineffective method is: Approach complete strangers… point out a fault with something they are doing… and then offer your services to help them fix the defect.
On the surface, it seems sensible. You are doing someone a favor by helping them correct a defect that could be hurting their business, right? So you’d think they’d be grateful and reciprocate by hiring you to fix the problem you alerted them to. After all, you have already demonstrated your expertise, skill, and value by detecting the problem for them without charge.
But here’s the problem: Most folks, including me, don’t like unsolicited advice.
One of the inviolate rules of my life, both business and personal, is: Never give unsolicited advice.
Advice is valued only if three conditions exist: (1) The advice is sought after (i.e., the recipient asked for it), (2) it is not negative or insulting, and (3) it is constructive and specific.
JT’s e-mail to me violated the first and second of these conditions.
First, I didn’t ask her to proofread for me. So why should she do it?
Prospects prefer to work with vendors who are successful and in demand… not with those they perceive as desperate and needy. The fact that JT is spending her time proofreading copy for strangers without compensation tells me she probably isn’t very busy.
Second, she insults me – telling me I am a lousy proofreader and I should “fire” myself.
Customers buy from people they like. And we don’t like people who insult us.
Another problem with trying to win business by giving unsolicited critiques or advice to strangers is that you risk looking ignorant. That’s because you lack the background on their situation to know whether your suggestions are valid and warranted.
In JT’s case, she assumed I had a typo on a landing page because I’m a bad proofreader. She’s wrong. The real reason you can find typos on some of my sites is that I have literally hundreds of pages posted on the Web. And with my team already overloaded, we simply can’t always keep up with our proofreading and other tasks that are not critical to sales.
A better approach for JT would have been to point out the typo, and then say, “Are your proofreaders overloaded? Hire me to take on the backlog and get those pesky typos off your sites forever.” That would have been more appealing to me than assuming we stink at proofreading, which we don’t.
Finally, JT violates the Silver Rule of Marketing, first articulated to me by marketing consultant Pete Silver.
He told me: “It is always better to get them to come to you, rather than you go to them.”
By violating this rule and soliciting my business, JT placed herself in a weak position.
It may be that I don’t care about typos. (Not true, but there are people who don’t, believe it or not.) If that were the case, JT would be pursuing an unqualified prospect.
Even if I had been interested in her offer, she would have to work hard to convince me that she is the proofreader I should hire. I’ve never heard of her, have no idea who she is, and therefore certainly do not perceive her as an expert or top pro in editing and proofreading.
On the other hand, if you get prospects to come to you because of your reputation as a recognized expert or top pro in your field, you don’t have to do a lot of convincing or selling, because those prospects are already predisposed to hire you.
I would advise JT to stop wasting her time criticizing the websites of marketers who don’t want those critiques, and may even resent them. Instead, she should take steps to position herself as an expert – maybe by writing a column on proper English for a respected business magazine, creating a course on copyediting, or speaking at conferences.Had she done that, I might have come running to her for help, instead of running away.