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Should I start from a clear positioning or start wider and see what works?

When it comes to getting more clients as a freelancer or consultant, the most important question to ask yourself about your marketing is The Positioning Question.

Let’s say you’re starting a new consulting business. You’re wondering if you should:

  • Start with a specific positioning (target market) and problem that you’re solving (“Shopify” and “Search Engine Optimization,” for example)
  • Start with a wide positioning (“Search Engine Optimization”) and see what markets end up working with you and then niche down

You should start with a specific positioning.

Okay, I’m cheating here. These are actually two questions, but they’re equally important and come together as The Positioning Question.

Let’s Talk About “The Positioning Question”

What target market do you serve?

This should, ideally, be an industry (e.g., “Dentists”) or technology (e.g., “Shopify” or “Redmine”) vertical. It can be a horizontal (e.g., “eCommerce”), but that’s Playing On Hard Mode™ for most folks.

Better to focus on a vertical and expand from there.

What expensive problem do you solve for your target market?

This should be an outcome which represent the client’s desired and improved conditions.

The outcome of working on an Expensive Problem are never inputs (e.g., reports, focus groups, manuals) but rather always outputs (e.g., increased sales, reduced attrition, improved teamwork).


Everything I know about positioning for freelancers and consultants comes from my good friend and the “Dean of Positioning” Philip Morgan, creator of the free Positioning Crash Course and author of The Positioning Manual.

Sign up and/or buy those as soon as you can.

Positioning is important because it defines every single other aspect of your marketing as a freelancer or consultant.

If you do not know the target market you’re trying to reach, your marketing will be ineffective.

If you do not know the expensive problem you are solving or the outcome that represents the client’s desired and improved conditions, your marketing will be ineffective.

I’m serious. If you cannot answer The Positioning Question for your business, all of your marketing and lead acquisition will be less effective.

Sure, you can build a business, but you’re going to be pushing that boulder uphill.

Let’s look at the major marketing areas for a freelancer or consultant and see what happens if you don’t know the answer to The Positioning Question:

    • Positioning: “Who am I trying to reach with my marketing?” → If you can’t answer The Positioning Question, you, by definition, do not know.
    • Market Research: “What outcome is my target market looking to experience?” → If you can’t answer The Positioning Question, all you can do is guess at the problems they’re experiencing, not research the outcomes they’re looking to achieve.
    • Service Offerings: “What offerings do I make available to my target market?” → If you can’t answer who you’re serving or what expensive problems they’re looking to solve, you won’t know what service offerings to market in your business.
    • Marketing Messaging: “How do I communicate with my target market?” → If you don’t know who your target market is, you won’t know what messaging to use to effectively communicate with them. This is the difference between the headline on your homepage saying “Dynamic, innovative web solutions” and “We’ll turn your Shopify store into a Revenue-Generating Powerhouse of Persuasion” (n.b., https://ethercycle.com/)
    • Client Intake Automation: “How do I minimize the time that I spend educating, nurturing, and qualifying prospects and converting them from prospects into leads into clients?” → If you don’t know who your target market is and what problems they’re experiencing, you won’t be able to effectively educate, nurture, and qualify prospects.
    • Content Marketing: “What content should I create to educate prospects and demonstrate my authority?” → If you don’t know who you’re trying to speak to or what questions they’re asking, you won’t be able to effectively create educational, informative, and entertaining content.
    • Outreach Marketing: “How do I reach my ideal prospect where they already are before they’ve heard of me?” → If you don’t know who you’re trying to reach, you won’t be able to identify where they spend time online or offline or the most effective way (podcasts, guest articles, interviews, webinars, conferences, presentations, meetups, etc.) to reach them and inform them that you’re around and available to help them achieve their outcomes or solve their problems.
    • Referral Marketing: “How do I turn one connection into referrals to multiple prospective clients?” → If you don’t know who you’re trying to reach or what outcomes you’re helping them generate, you won’t be able to ask for referrals or create referrable moments in your business. (“Hey Jane, it was wonderful to help you achieve XYZ on our recent project. Do you know anyone else in INDUSTRY who is looking for help achieving OUTCOME?”)

You can build an effective 6-figure business without answering The Positioning Question but it’s heckin‘ hard.

Once you’ve identified your target market, the outcomes they’re looking to achieve, and the expensive problem they’re experiencing, it becomes much easier to market your business and get more clients.

When you have clear positioning, people start to seek you out.

Positioning. It’s very important.

I have two questions for you. Even if you don’t know the specific answer yet or your answers are aspirational (“I’m working on niching down to ____”), send me back your best guess answers to these questions:

    1. What is your target market? Who do you serve?
    2. What outcome do you help clients in your target market achieve? What expensive problem do you help them solve?

Is it easier to market to your best buyers or all buyers?

It is easier to find a list of “shopify stores” and then see if they need help with search engine optimization than it is to start with a wide positioning like “I do search engine optimization” and then niche down to a particular industry/market.

You want to focus on marketing to your ‘best’ buyers only. They will buy more from you.

Positioning is a marketing strategy. Positioning lets you know specifically who to target with your marketing.

With positioning, you’ll know who your ‘best’ buyers will be and can focus on acquiring them as subscribers. Appearing on podcasts like The Unofficial Shopify Podcast (http://www.unofficialshopifypodcast.com/) or writing in places where your customers spend their time (like contributing to /r/shopify or guest posting on Shopify’s blog).

Lots of people will want to work with you

Some people are worried that with positioning they’re turning potential clients away.

Let me set the record straight on this one: with positioning, you’re creating a client attractor. You are making it easier for your dream clients — your best buyers — to find you.

Other people will find you too.

For any business I’ve run that is heavily niched down to a specific market, I have had prospects contact me who are very outside of that market and ask to work together.

Why? Because clients see your positioning as a specialist in your market as a sign of experience, authority, and expertise. And clients and prospects both want to work with people who have experience, authority, and expertise.

So, by positioning yourself in one industry, you will still attract prospects, leads, and clients from other industries.

And if you’re niched down to a specific industry and take a client from a different industry, that doesn’t mean you need to completely change your business; rather, you can take on clients who are outside of your core positioning.

Those clients might be the sign that there are other markets you can work with or might just be a good client project and testimonial and not the best case study (because they’re outside of your core positioning).

But! Dear friend, you need not worry if you have a specific positioning and someone outside of that positioning wants to work with you.

Talk with that prospect. See if you can help them. If you can and you have capacity for a client, consider taking them on.

Taking on a prospect outside of your core positioning doesn’t diminish your positioning.

But you will be better off with a specific positioning for your business. Knowing who your best customers are. And marketing to them.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the best book you can (and should!) read on positioning. It’s The Positioning Manual (http://thepositioningmanual.com) by Philip Morgan and his advice and mentoring on positioning has helped thousands of freelancers and consultants.

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