Working Your Business From the Zone of Genius

At the end of 2012, after a long string of business successes, I experienced burnout and dramatically scaled back my business.

My first big success in 2000, the publishing of the InfoGuru Manual, brought me wide attention and a dramatically increased income.

That led to Marketing Action Groups, my Certification Program, and the Marketing Mastery Program. I was earning as much money in a month as I used to make in a year 12 years before.

One day I woke up, looked at everything I had to do to ramp up for the next Mastery Program and said to myself, “I just can’t do it. It’s too much work.”

I went back to working with clients individually and delivering various online courses for the next five years.

I intentionally cut my income by $20,000 per month. It turns out that this was not a big issue. I could easily live on less money and in many ways enjoyed the reduced stress and demands to perform at my peak.

Now I’m looking at this scaling back through a different lens.

I’m currently reading a powerful book by Gay Hendricks called, The Big Leap.

The core idea in this book is that when it comes to success, most of us have what he calls, “An upper limit problem.”

Frequently this is simply never being able to reach a certain level of success or income no matter how hard we try.

Or as in my case, I hit a level of success way beyond what I previously thought was possible and then did something to sabotage that success.

We might even reach levels of stratospheric success and then find some way to screw up some other area of our lives.

Hendricks talks about four different zones of success:

Incompetence – where we are not doing well in our work or life and not having much success.

Competence – where we are having some degree of success but are not really thriving and loving what we do.

Excellence – where we are doing really well, and enjoying a lot of success but often feeling stressed or even burnt out.

Genius – where we are putting most of our time and attention on doing what we really love and fully celebrating and expressing the gifts we’ve been given.

What I realized from this book is that I had built my business from incompetence to competence, and then to excellence – but had then put on the brakes.

Taking the leap to the genius zone and staying there was just too much for me to handle.

So I stepped back to what I was excellent at, a comfort zone in my business if you will.

Someone once told me that in life there is no hovering. You’re either going up or down – forward or backward.

But what is it that keeps us from living and working in our Genius Zone, where the limits seem to be non-existent, where creativity and energy are boundless?

Hendricks outlines four fundamental beliefs that continually pull us back to our comfort zones, where it feels better to hold back, play a little smaller or even sabotage ourselves.

In my experience, there are several more than four. The following are the ones I’m most familiar with, for myself and with client’s I’ve worked with.

Belief #1. “I am fundamentally flawed or unworthy.” Like all limiting beliefs this one usually comes from an early life experience such as diminishing or critical messages from one’s parents.

Belief #2. “If I succeed, I’ll be rejected or abandoned.” You believe family and friends will leave you behind because you’ve surpassed them or broken “family rules.”

Belief #3. “If I’m successful, more demands will be put on me to succeed even more.” In other word, success equals discipline, pain, and struggle. A very demanding father can trigger this one!

Belief #4. “I’ve taken my success as far as it can go.” This is the voice of someone who lives in the zone of excellence but who has no inkling that a zone of genius even exists.

To some degree, all of these beliefs have limited me.

They’ve prevented me from making big leaps, from taking risks, from doing things that are exciting and new, from going all-in on projects that inspire and delight.

What I learned from Byron Katie is that the first step to freedom is to recognize a limiting belief and then to simply tell the truth about it. That saps the belief of its power.

With this realization, I’m now firmly dedicated to working on projects and offering services and programs that are reflections of my zone of genius.

It’s certainly better than continuing to live and work in my comfort zone for the rest of my life.

How to Successfully Meet the Three Biggest Marketing Challenges

I like to think I’m a pretty good marketer of my professional services.

After all, I’ve been at it for 34 years, read hundreds of marketing books, thousands of articles and studied with the very best marketing gurus.

But marketing is still challenging for me and the majority of independent professionals. If it weren’t, we’d all have more clients than we could serve, they’d be paying us high fees, and we’d never having to worry where our next clients would come from.

And we wouldn’t need the thousands of marketing coaches and consultants like me offering services of all kinds to help you attract more clients.

So, why is marketing so challenging?

There are many marketing challenges, however, if you look at marketing closely, there are actually only three big challenges that give us the most trouble.

Learn how to meet those challenges and your marketing will become more successful, easier, and fun.

Here are those three marketing challenges:

Challenge #1. Clearly communicating the value of what you are offering. Someone will not buy your services if they don’t see the real value to them. Your message can’t be vague or confusing; it must be clear and beneficial.

One way to zero in on the value of your service is to define the top three attributes your service possesses. One or two is not enough; five or six tends to dilute your message.

So, for instance, a sales training company might want to emphasize that their training is guaranteed to increase sales, improve sales confidence quickly, and can be delivered virtually in 45-minute online modules.

That’s easy to understand and obviously beneficial. That kind of clear and valuable message is likely to generate attention, interest, and response.

Seems simple, but not so easy to do. In my experience with thousands of independent professionals, their messages tend to be vague, not specific, and weak in terms of value.

And if that value is not clear, prospects won’t respond.

Taking the time to work on your message, fine-tune it, and test it until it gets a favorable response is one of the most important things you can possibly do in your business.

To succeed at this task you must get inside the heads of your ideal clients and ask what they want the most, what problems they struggle with frequently, what isn’t working for them, and what could make their jobs easier and more productive.

Jaynie L. Smith of Smart Advantage consulting says that 90% of companies don’t really know what their clients value the most. No wonder marketing messages are so bad.

You can improve your marketing messages by reading and research (ask Google), sending questionnaires to your clients (Survey Monkey), or conducting a virtual focus group (via Zoom Video). Ultimately, you want to find out their biggest challenges and what they value the most.

When you have that marketing intelligence, it will be a lot easier to come up with powerful marketing messages.

This is challenging because it takes time and deep thinking. But if you realize its importance, you’ll invest your energies to come up with a powerful message that makes your service attractive, interesting, and compelling to your ideal clients.

Challenge # 2. Making your business visible with repeated impressions of your message over time. It can take several impressions before someone responds to your marketing message.

Just today, I noticed a message that one of my first level connections had sent to me on LinkedIn. When I checked the message, I noticed that he had sent me a total of 13 messages over a one-year period.

The messages were actually very good. They had the right tone and great calls-to-action. It’s just that I don’t pay a lot of attention to my LinkedIn messages and had completely missed the first 12!

He understood the value of repeat impressions over time and had developed a system within LinkedIn that had enabled him to send a unique, personalized message every month for a year. Pretty impressive.

If he had only sent one or two messages, the chances are good that I wouldn’t have seen them.

Again, my experience with the majority of self-employed professionals is that their marketing visibility is, at best, random and inconsistent, and at worst, non-existent.

As you may know, I’ve sent out an email newsletter to my list pretty much every week for 21 years. That’s visibility. It’s really quite simple, but not so easy.

If you want to be effective at your marketing, you must identify marketing strategies that enable you to get your message in front of your prospective clients consistently.

And again, this is challenging. What is the best marketing activity for you, your personality and talents? How can you fit something into your schedule and do it consistently, not for a few weeks but for years?

The question is not just what marketing strategies to use. Networking, speaking, blogging, email newsletters, webinars, social media, and direct outreach can all work.

The more important question is what strategies will work the best for you and how exactly you can implement those strategies without spinning your wheels.

You’re looking for proven, step-by-step instructions so you can evaluate if a strategy is right for you and something you can fit into your schedule on a regular basis. Remember, sporadic implementation is a waste of time.

Implementing visibility strategies takes commitment and persistence. Is growing and succeeding in your business important enough for you to make that kind of effort? If it is, you’ll succeed at finding the best strategy for you.

The final challenge may be the most important of all to overcome.

Challenge #3. Maintaining the right marketing attitude and mindset over time, despite setbacks. If you can’t maintain The 3 R’s of success – responsibility, resourcefulness, and resilience, your marketing will never achieve the results you want.

These 3Rs are absolutely essential.

Responsibility is the stance that the buck stops with you. You are the only one who will find a way to attract clients and you won’t give up until you find that way. You won’t make excuses or blame circumstances, but instead will be accountable for making results happen.

Resourcefulness is the skill to utilize your talents, and abilities to quickly find smart ways to overcome difficulties and find solutions. And to be resourceful, you can’t be full of doubts and fears of failure or rejection. A responsible person commits to finding a way; a resourceful person tries every way possible until they discover the best way.

Resilience may be the most powerful trait of all. It’s what enables you to bounce back from adversity, setbacks, and even failures. And if you’re working to attract great clients, you’ll inevitably experience all of those many times. People who are not resilient don’t even try, let alone succeed.

All of these essential qualities are in short supply. But if you work to grow those qualities persistently, over time, they will help you succeed with the first two challenging things in marketing – messaging and visibility.

Despite these three marketing challenges – messaging, visibility, and mindset – there is good news.

Improving your skills or abilities – even a little – in any of these three challenge areas will increase your marketing effectiveness.

There is no perfect way of tackling all three challenges and you can’t do it in big leaps that get you there overnight. But you can work on all three slowly, with persistence, making small gains every week.

When you improve your messages, you’ll start to see a better response in communicating to your prospects. Marketing then becomes like a game that starts with the question, “How can I communicate my value more clearly and powerfully?”

When you increase your visibility, you’ll also notice a better response because to some degree, marketing is a numbers game. Your question might be, “How can I get my message in front of more of the right people this month?”

And when you enhance your responsibility, resourcefulness, and resilience, you’ll find that playing the game becomes easier and more fun. The 3Rs are the fuel that enables you to persist with the first two challenges.

Where do you start?

You start by admitting where you are now and then committing to a purpose (your WHY for being in business in the first place), a goal (a specific thing you want to achieve), and to taking action (the actual steps you’ll implement to get there).

Yes, marketing is challenging. But meeting those challenges is absolutely worth it.

The Five Pillars of Marketing Success

Does the following give a pretty good picture of your current marketing activity?

You have a website but you’re not really satisfied with it. You go to networking events once in awhile. If someone asks you to give a talk, you’re happy to do it. You post on Facebook and/or LinkedIn semi-regularly. When you find the time, you send an article to those on your relatively small email list. You occasionally set up meetings with colleagues to explore opportunities.

Now there’s nothing wrong with any of those marketing activities. And usually, they will result in landing some new clients.

But this is not the approach that works to get a steady, predictable stream of new clients.

Please don’t tune me out here, thinking, “Well, I really can’t do more than this. I’m already stretched thin. If you give me too much to do I’ll get overwhelmed.”

I agree. It’s not that you need to do more marketing, it’s that you need to shift your marketing paradigm from one of “Randomness” to one that is “Focused.”

Random marketing is just that; it’s all over the place. You do a little bit here and a little bit there on an inconsistent basis. You are trying to keep your face, name, and message in front of your prospective clients but the results are unpredictable.

The Random marketing paradigm is not very effective because it doesn’t gain a lot of momentum. You don’t do enough of one marketing activity to grab the attention of your prospective clients and move them to take action.

The Focused Marketing Paradigm is very different. It’s based on repeatedly communicating very directly to your target market with a very definite end in mind. It gets the attention of your prospective clients and they ultimately take action.

The Focused Marketing Paradigm has Five Pillars

Understand and implement these five pillars and I promise you’ll see a shift in your marketing results.

Pillar One: Focused Goals

A Random goal is saying something like, “I’d like to attract a few more clients to my business.” Not very compelling is it?

A Focused goal is much more specific. “My goal is to land 3 new clients in the high-tech plastics business in the Houston area with an average project size of $30,000 each by the end of the year.”

The more detail, depth, and specificity about the goal, the better. You’ve really thought through what you want to achieve and also have confidence that you could deliver if you did reach your goal. It’s so real to you that you can taste it.

What is the Focused Goal for your marketing?

Pillar Two: Focused Program or Service

Random programs or services are generalized consulting, coaching or training programs. “I offer management consulting and training to corporations.” Kind of vague, right? But this is what I hear all the time.

A Focused Program or Service is more tangible. “I offer the high-tech plastics industry Management Acceleration Programs for emerging leaders in the industry.”

In my business, I’ve always offered programs: The Marketing Mastery Program, the Marketing Action Group, and the More Clients Club. And each program has very specific parameters, deliverables, and objectives. It sure makes intangible services easier to market and sell.

What is the Focused Program or Service you’re offering?

Pillar Three: Focused Target Market

In the above example, the target was the “high-tech plastics industry.” But it’s more common to hear things like, “I work with large companies who want to increase productivity.” This is too general and it makes it hard for clients to know if you understand them and can help them.

A Focused target market is where you are absolutely clear what kinds of people or companies can most benefit from your expertise. And then you articulate that clearly.

I worked with a financial planning company last year that targeted middle class families in the Buffalo New York area. Guess who they attracted to their practice? When people read about who they worked with on their website, they said, “That’s Us!” and called them.

Who exactly is your Focused Target Market?

Pillar Four: Focused Message and Value Proposition

A Random message or value proposition tends to be too general and can be hard to pin down. It avoids making a promise that is meaningful to the prospective client.

Messages such as, “We offer the best service in the industry,” or “Smart insights into great management,” are meaningless to your prospective clients. The value is not immediately obvious.

A Focused message or value proposition zeros in on exactly what your clients get and what it means to them. I admit that this can be the marketing pillar that is hardest to pin down. Ultimately you have to test a number of different things.

For the re-launch of the More Clients Club, my current value proposition is: “Everything Self-Employed Professionals Need in One Place to Attract More Clients.” And now, of course, I’m bending over backward to deliver on that promise.

And a marketing message or value proposition is much more than a sound bite. Your message must permeate every aspect of your marketing, from your website to the emails you send out. Your prospects need to be constantly reminded of the value you offer.

What is your Focused Message or Value Proposition?

Pillar Five: Focused Marketing Strategy

A Random marketing strategy is much like the collection of marketing activities I outlined at the top of the article. You’re just all over the place, throwing something at the wall, hoping it will stick, with no organized system or plan.

A Focused marketing strategy is more like a putting on a theatrical production. You have the script, the actors, rehearsals, and opening night, all executed on a strict timeline.

Two examples:

For my Marketing Mastery Program, I held a series of introductory teleconferences, invited those interested to apply for the program, interviewed each applicant, and then converted 50% into participants. Over a 6-week period, I filled my business for a full year – four years in a row.

A career coach in one of my programs recently filled her practice in three months with a focused campaign of personalized emails designed to get appointments with her ideal clients. Then she converted a large percentage into paying clients.

That’s the power of a focused marketing strategy.

You need to identify the right marketing strategy for your business, but even more important is the way you organize and implement the strategy.

Developing a focused strategy is the most complex and challenging of the Five Pillars. You can’t just put together something haphazardly and hope you get the equivalent of a professional Shakespearian production.

What is your Focused Marketing Strategy?

If you work to build a focused plan with these five solid pillars, your marketing will work better and faster, attracting more of your ideal clients, usually at a higher rate.

I recommend you work on one pillar at a time. Write them out and fine-tune them until you feel confident and excited about them. Yes, you will need to do some research and study to make sure your plan is viable. But this is certainly better than spinning your wheels with a random strategy that is going nowhere.

The Key to Make Your Marketing Message Stand Out

Do you have a difficult time articulating what it is that you do?

Have you noticed other people’s eyes glaze over when you respond to the question, “What do you do”?

Whether you’re delivering your elevator pitch at a networking event, introducing yourself at a business reception, answering the question at a cocktail party, or promoting your services in print (online or offline), stick to the outcomes you deliver and spare the details on how you get there.

I recall being introduced to a “business consultant” at one networking event, and he looked surprised when I asked what he did. It was as if every person should know exactly what a consultant does but in reality, there are many possibilities in the realm of consulting.

He went on to explain the tedious details of his work, and yes, I felt my eyes glaze over but made an effort to concentrate on where he was going with his long-winded explanation. By the end of it, I still had no idea about the benefits his clients got from working with him or whom I could potentially refer to him.

As a copywriter, I write persuasive content that influences my client’s market to take action and buy from them. My clients don’t want to hear about the research I do into their competitor’s deliverables (and more) or how I find the keywords needed to ensure their prospects will find them.

And they don’t care about the numerous drafts and re-writes I do or how I print off my work, edit with a red pen, transfer those changes, and edit again – at least not initially (and a lot of that they don’t care about at all). They want to know that I can help them get more paying customers!

Every entrepreneur and sales professional has their special “magic” (your process) they use to get to the solutions or answers their clients are seeking. But keep that magic a secret for now – it’s all yours. Instead, focus on these 3 areas:

1. Understand your target audience and what matters to them the most (in other words, what is their big problem).

2. Share the outcomes they get after working with you (the solution to that problem and how they’ll feel after they’ve experienced your offerings).

3. Why you – what value do you bring to the table that makes you stand apart from other providers? You can read more about this here: https://bit.ly/2suBgEP.

A wellness provider, for example, may offer a multitude of therapies, but instead of rhyming off that long list, which can be overwhelming and confusing, share the outcome of how your customers will feel after they’ve experienced your services.

Remember, your customers want to get from point A to point B. They’re looking for answers or solutions. In your initial meeting or your marketing messages, please don’t share the twists, turns, and obstacles (your process) it takes to get there. Just let them know what they’ll get when they choose you to help them.

Fighting Truthiness and Hype in Marketing

Truthiness is the belief or assertion that a particular statement is true based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or individuals, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.

Truthiness can range from ignorant assertions of falsehoods to deliberate duplicity or propaganda intended to sway opinions. – Wikipedia

We know that truthiness is rampant in politics.

But it’s also rampant in marketing.

Many of us think that marketing is mostly truthiness, not real truth in any way, shape or form.

We expect hype and exaggeration, if not downright deception, when it comes to promoting products and services.

Because of this, many of us become almost immune to the majority of marketing messages.

We assume that whatever someone says about their business, product, or service must be a form of truthiness, a veiled lie that hides the real facts.

So, as an independent professional wanting to attract more clients, you are faced with a real dilemma.

You are puzzled about how you can persuasively communicate the value of your professional services given that most prospective clients will doubt almost everything you say.

Because of this, I’ve noticed that many independent professionals shy away from marketing completely.

While others chose to go to the truthiness dark side, hoping an excess of hype will carry the day.

A recent email promotion I received contained a number of over-the-top marketing promises about an online marketing program:

“You will witness a revolutionary new technology being released that will allow you as a small business owner (regardless of skill level or experience level) to… generate as many new clients as you can possibly handle.”

Would you believe that? No, it’s truthiness and hype incarnate!

And anyone who does believe it is likely a naïve, gullible person looking for miracles with little work on their part.

So how can you eschew truthiness and still market your professional services effectively?

That, as they say, is the million-dollar question!

Well, the opposite of truthiness is honesty.

And yes, it is possible to communicate the value of your services truthfully, honestly, and with integrity.

But to do that you need to watch out for certain things that can become a slippery slope in your marketing.

Truthiness Insight #1

You must realize that what you feel about something is not the same as facts about something.

“I feel that my consulting services dramatically increase my clients’ productivity.”

OK, that’s nice, but by what objective measure are you determining the actual effectiveness of your professional services?

How about doing some measuring instead, such as before and after metrics?

When you have actual proof of what happens before and after, your credibility increases, as does your own confidence in your services.

The best marketing outlines real benefits and advantages based on facts, not hope.

Truthiness Insight #2

It’s not unusual to see client testimonials about how great it was to work with someone.

That’s nice and it’s certainly positive, but it’s not as powerful as reports of real changes.

“I lost 20 pounds in four months working with Ralph on both my diet and exercise program. He really supported me during the challenging times and helped me develop positive new habits that have stuck with me for the past year.”

This certainly trumps something like: “Ralph is a wonderful health coach who I trust with my life. You should definitely consider working with him.”

We often hear about the importance of getting testimonials. However, better to focus on getting solid results for your clients and then getting the testimonials will be easy.

Truthiness Insight #3

When you always speak in superlatives about your services, you again undermine your credibility.

Remember, people are skeptical and understandably so. So many promises made by marketers end in disappointment.

Better to actually talk about some of the drawbacks of your services than paint a completely unrealistic picture of “success without effort.”

I make it a point of telling all my prospective clients that if they engage me it will take a lot of work on their part to get out there and attract new clients.

They appreciate that I’m realistic and don’t sugarcoat things.

But believe me, in the past I’ve been less than realistic and it hasn’t turned out well for me!

We need to turn off the hype and get real. When we do, we tend to build more trust and confidence with our clients.

Truthiness Insight #4

We live in a sound-bite world.

Sound bites are important, as they are effective at getting attention and interest for our services.

But is there depth beyond the sound-bite? If not, you’re going to come across as shallow and insubstantial.

I once attended a public speaking course that stated: “You should know 30 times more than what you say in your presentation.”

That’s what real professionalism is about: deep knowledge, understanding, and experience in your field.

As they say, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

This is the motto of the truthiness practitioner and ultimately won’t bode well for your long-term success.

Truthiness Insight #5

One of the hallmarks of truthiness and hype is ever-changing marketing messages.

You think, “Heck, if one message isn’t working, I’ll try another until something sticks.” But you pay little attention to the validity and authenticity of the message.

A message that is clever, catchy, or over-the-top may get attention, but undermine your professional image.

Your message needs to be interesting and believable.

It should make people think, not insult their intelligence.

Take some serious time to work on your marketing messages. Run them past your current clients and get their reaction.

Others will notice truthiness and hype before you do.

But you’ll know you’re on track if they say, “yes, that really hits the nail on the head; that’s the reason I decided to work with you.”

Start banishing truthiness and hype from your marketing.

Not only will you build trust with your clients, you’ll start to attract more of the right clients, clients who are looking for a professional who walks their talk.

Nine Ways to Make Your Business Visible

Imagine that you woke up one morning and discovered you were completely invisible. And nobody could hear you either. If you sent an email, nobody would even see it.

Not such a great circumstance if you wanted to attract clients to your business!

But as absurd as this situation might seem, it’s pretty close to reality for many independent professionals. They are rarely seen or noticed by their prospective clients.

If your business is not growing and you need to attract more clients, the very first thing you need to do is gain more visibility.

In my business, my efforts to become visible followed this progression: networking – speaking – keep-in-touch marketing – publishing.

I joined my local Chamber of Commerce, professional groups, and networking clubs and I started to meet a lot of new people, many prospective clients.

Then I contacted organizations and started to give talks on marketing for professionals. I met even more people and added them to my mailing list.

I then mailed a newsletter every other month to those on this list, and I sent postcard mailings inviting people to various introductory marketing events.

In 1997, I transitioned to an email list that reached 50,000 people at its peak. These people received this eZine once a week and I also promoted various

products and services to those on the list. Twenty years later the eZine still goes out weekly.

Finally, I published my InfoGuru Marketing Manual that developed more credibility and led to more clients and participants in my marketing groups.

I may be a lot of things, but one is not being invisible!

The hard truth you have to face is that very few people wake up in the morning with your name on their lips. You cannot remain relatively invisible and expect your business to grow magically.

You need to remedy this with a “Visibility Plan.” Here are nine ways to do it:

1. Start slow, with patience. You can’t get in front of 50,000 people overnight. Get clear on who your ideal clients are and where you can connect with them.

2. Focus on as many in-person meetings as possible through professional organizations. Really get to know people and their needs.

3. Reach out to make connections with those you’ve met who could be possible clients or refer you to clients. Real connections are more powerful than virtual connections.

4. With permission, add people to your e-list and send some valuable information at least monthly. This kind of keep-in-touch marketing is essential to stay visible.

5. Set up your website to get opt-ins in return for a report or article. Make it a practice to give away lots of value and demonstrate your expertise.

6. Establish a presence on social media such as Facebook and Linked In. But don’t make this your primary visibility method, as it can be hard to stand out in this crowded arena.

7. Submit articles to online publications that your ideal clients visit and read. This is a great way to build credibility to a very targeted audience.

8. Seek out opportunities to give presentations – everything from speaking at professional groups to giving a TED talk. Nothing is more powerful than highlighting your expertise on stage.

9. Publish a book or e-book that establishes your expertise. A book is a powerful door-opener that provides a platform for the services and programs you offer.

I’ve done all of these things to one degree or another and I’ve also helped my clients do them as well, with great success.

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