Self-employed professionals and creatives often tell me that they find marketing to be a struggle. They can’t seem to get enough clients to pay the bills, or they’re spending more money to land each client than the sale is worth. Too many of their efforts seem to fail. “There must be an easier way,” they say.


I think there is. But making the transition from the hard way to the easy way can be pretty difficult in itself. That’s because it requires the toughest kind of change — a change in thinking.

It Doesn’t Have to Be So Hard

First you have to acknowledge that there’s nothing noble about working too hard. Working “too hard” comes in many forms. You may be putting in too many hours, or spending too much to get clients, or trying a dozen different marketing strategies all at once, or sounding too desperate when asking for business.

To leave struggle behind, you must choose to give it up. This may sound odd, because of course you don’t like struggling. But old habits die hard. If you’re used to solving problems by throwing more effort at them, it’s often quite challenging to instead stop, analyze what’s not working, and ask if there is a smarter answer.

If you find that clients don’t want to pay what you’re asking, instead of trying harder to convince those clients of your worth (or complaining to colleagues about how cheap the clients are), you may need to look for different clients who have more to spend. If the places you are looking don’t seem to connect you with enough prospective clients, instead of looking in those places more often, consider looking for new places where clients might be found.

Let the Numbers Guide You

You also have to give up magical thinking. No matter how wonderful your workshop is, you won’t get twenty people to sign up just by emailing a list of 200. You may be a talented professional in your field, but you can’t expect to land a major contract by simply contacting three companies who don’t know you.

Successful marketing, like much of business, can require paying attention to the numbers. If you want to stop struggling, you have to do the math. A typical conversion rate (percentage of sales made) from a well-constructed email marketing campaign is 1-2% of the total emails sent. So to fill a twenty-person workshop using email marketing alone, you would need to mail at least 1000-2000 people.

It’s been my experience that the average professional can close one sale from every thirty leads they pursue in their target market. One out of ten leads eventually results in a sales conversation of some kind; one out of three sales conversations typically leads to an assignment. Ten times three equals thirty. This is equivalent to a conversion rate of 3%. Various studies suggest that cold calling conversion rates between 2% and 5% are typical. Using my own 30-to-1 rule, if you want to get two assignments this quarter, you should plan to pursue about sixty leads.

I’m presenting numbers like these not to discourage you, but instead to encourage you to look at marketing realistically rather than magically.

Rely on the Power of Trust

To move from struggle-based marketing to productive marketing, incorporate trust into all of your plans. Use warm marketing approaches rather than cold ones whenever possible. When you have a prospective client’s trust, more sales happen with less effort on your part.

Trust that if you choose two or three solid marketing strategies and employ them with persistence and consistency, clients will follow. If you keep changing your plan, or piling new activities on the plate, the result will be more struggle.

Trust that if you spend a bit of time and/or money on a compelling enrollment page and building a targeted list of potential clients, you will be much more likely to fill your workshop. And trust enough to spend that time and money up front instead of struggling by with a slapdash sales page and just asking your social media contacts to share it.

Trust that building relationships really is the key to getting in the door with corporate clients, and be willing to go to meetings, make calls, and do coffee or lunch. If instead, you hide out behind an anonymous website, LinkedIn solicitations, and generic emails, you are dooming yourself to struggle with a potentially high price tag.

Smarter is Almost Always Easier

Yes, there is work to be done if you want your marketing to be successful, but you need to work smarter, not harder. There is money to be spent, but you must spend it on the essentials first and save the bells and whistles for later. And there is magic to be had, but it’s the magic that comes from making a plan and working it, instead of hoping that somehow you can beat the odds.

The path to struggle-free marketing really boils down to this. How many new clients do you need each year to earn a comfortable living? How many prospective clients should be in your marketing pipeline to result in that number of closed sales? How much time and money can you afford to spend to bring in each client? Now… which marketing strategies will bring in the number of potential clients you need within your available budget of time and money?

If you’re not sure how to answer some of these questions, ask a successful colleague, read a book or two, take a class, hire a consultant or coach. But once you think you have the right answers, stick with them, no matter how tempting it is to buy an ad instead of making calls, or try a new idea instead of carrying through with your original plan, or rely on wishful thinking instead of crunching some numbers.

To end the struggle, try taking the easy way out. Do the necessary learning and planning to figure out what will make your business deliver what you really want, instead of trying to make it happen on a wing and prayer.

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