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Building Block #5: Non-Gross Marketing and Sales

Prefer to listen rather than to read? This essay is also on the podcast here.

Building blocks 1, 2, 3 and 4 are all about appropriately designing your business; You want to be thoughtful that you have an offering which will bring in the revenue you need, be a good fit long term for both you and your clients, and be delivered in the most effective container and presented well.

Now that you have a solid design, the actual life of a business once it’s up and running consists of 3 things:

1. Marketing 2. Sales 3. Delivering the offering

(And of course building blocks 1 through 4 can and often do change over time as you move through different iterations of your work. So if I were to draw your business as a shape over time, it would not be a straight line).

We will talk about that third point, delivering the offering, next time, but for this one let’s talk marketing and sales.

Here’s the simplest definition of marketing: You need a way to let people know your offering, or offering(s) exist so that you can connect with potential clients.

Here’s the simplest definition of sales: Once potential clients have discovered what you do, you need a way for them to be able to determine if your offer is a good fit for them, i.e. if it meets a need they have. If it is for them, to be able to opt-in, in other words, to buy, the offer.

So while those of us in service-based businesses might not warm to the words “marketing and sales”, they are essential. People need to know you and your work exists. And some of those people will want to buy what you’re offering, and you need sales to generate revenue- or else, (call back to building block #1)- you don’t have a business.

I hope this lesson reframes some of what has made the words “marketing and sales” kind of yuck for you in the past.


When the marketing tactics and advice start to pile up and spin out of control (if they haven’t already), remind yourself that while marketing does have trial and error built into it for most everyone, marketing itself is more simple than having to have a full time marketing team who are utilizing every tactic under the sun.

If you were going to launch a new soda to compete with Coke, or a new mass market clothing store that would compete with The Gap, you would actually need a full time marketing team. And that full time team would need to utilize every tactic that exists and treat it like a lab, split-testing the results to determine what is working best; All so that they can keep pouring those marketing dollars and efforts at those things. That is the big marketing machine. Sometimes we see the "machine" for larger businesses, and we assume we also need to find a way to duplicate that for our tiny businesses...

But good news! You are not launching a new soda or mass-market clothing store. If you are reading this you are a tiny, but mighty, service-providing business. For service-based businesses, being visible in a way that allows potential clients to develop trust in you and your service is what will be most essential.

To keep it to the basics, here are the two main marketing frames you will benefit from (granted, yes, both frames can be implemented many ways. But experimenting with marketing will be a part of your life if you run a small business, so find the ways that you can enjoy experimenting!):

Marketing frame #1: Grow your list. The best way to do this is via a lead magnet, sometimes referred to as a “freebie” on your website. On your website, offer a free educational gift that would be valuable to your ideal client. Specifically, someone who could benefit from the offering(s) you provide.

(You can check out my lead magnets at This podcast episode is pulled from my ebook, You Need a Holistic Business).

The options for how you deliver your free educational download are:

  • Ebook- aka PDF download

  • A recorded workshop/webinar

  • Email course

  • Audio course/playlist

  • A quiz

  • A free course complete with video, worksheets, homework

When I'm working with clients and we're talking about these options, of course we're pairing it to what they already have, what their strengths are, and what makes sense as a way of receiving information for their ideal client based on what they're offering is. So there's no one right way. There are a multitude of different ways to put this together.

All of these options are just different ways to deliver some free, useful information to your ideal clients, while also letting them start to develop a relationship with you as they are engaging with your lead magnet (your freebie)- It should also give them insight into who you are and how you look at things, or how you work.

(Side note: Sometimes people offer a lead magnet that helps people evaluate the problem in their business, or to figure out what they are doing wrong in some aspect of their work. I find these to be less successful; People don’t want to buy problems. They want something that moves them into solutions).

Once a prospective client opts-in to receive the lead magnet, it is delivered in their inbox. They can, of course, unsubscribe from your list at any point, but if they have connected with you and are interested in what you do beyond the freebie, you have just begun an email relationship with them.

Second and final side note regarding lead magnets: It's also best if you don't just park this on your website and hope that people are going to wander by in the vast landscape of the interwebs. Instead, let it be something that you can refer to and give away in multiple spaces: Put it on your business card or printed postcard, post about it on social media if you use the socials, add it to your email signature, offer it as a bonus when you teach somewhere… keep mentioning and giving away this goody in any spaces you show up in.

Which brings me to Marketing frame #2: Grow your referral engine. This is the most important part of marketing for service-providing businesses. Not social media, but growing real relationships with people. For the purposes of this brief lesson, your referral engine will be made up of those who will gladly spread the word about what you do, and the opportunities you create for yourself to be visible where your ideal clients already are.

To grow your referral engine, you will want to connect with your trusted colleagues, show up places where your ideal clients might be, and remind your happy clients that you greatly appreciate their referrals. Ask yourself: Where are your clients and colleagues gathering? What related businesses or services do your clients also use which are not competitive with what you have to offer? What are the other interests your clients have and where do they partake in those? What conferences do they attend? What podcasts do they listen to? What publications do they read? How and where do they like to connect?

Once you’ve determined some of the gathering places of your ideal clients and colleagues, show up in a useful way. No one wants to have the sales shark lurking and trying to make a sale where people are just connecting with their community.

Instead, simply be a visible and helpful member of those spaces. Shine a light on the work of your colleagues. Teach a workshop, run an ad on a small niche podcast or get interviewed on that podcast, write an article for the publication, speak at the conference or offer to help out. There are endless ways to show up and be useful.

In fact, thinking about marketing as a way to be both visible and useful can often take the “ick” out of what we have previously considered marketing to be. For more brainstorming support on this front, check out my free training on Marketing Without Social Media at the free trainings page. (Oh wait! Did I just demonstrate how to point out your lead magnet multiple ways in multiple spaces!? I did! )

I want to conclude talking about growing your referral network by re-stating: This is the MOST important part of marketing. It is what will get clients in the door the most quickly, and the most sustainably over time. Your lead magnet is your long-game, your referral network is your bread and butter.

I believe this so wholeheartedly that in next week’s episode I am bringing you an interview with Michelle Warner, goddess of Relationship Marketing, to focus on this very precisely.

Which brings me to Sales:

Speaking of “ick”, right!? We’ve all had many bad sales experiences of the arm-twisting variety. So much so, that we assume sales is actually about convincing someone to do what we want them to do.

And there are many spaces, in current day capitalism where that is exactly what salespeople are taught, right? They learn how to navigate the psychology of a person to get them to buy. And you can see it everywhere! Right now, I'm writing this on December 7th, so it is holiday season. And I can't even read the news online without a bajillion blinking, flashing ads, "Black Friday sale extended! 60 percent off!"

However in service providing businesses where you are the person likely delivering the service, making people feel like they have been manipulated into doing something (which also means they are highly likely to later regret and even resent it) does not build a sustainable business or referral engine for that business.

To reiterate how I defined sales: Sales is a process for the potential client to be able to determine if your offer is a good fit for them, i.e. if it meets a need they have, and if it is for them, to be able to opt-in, or buy, the offer.

Before someone buys something (especially a service meant to meet a need) they have questions. So what you need are one or two ways to reliably help them to answer those questions. Not to convince them of anything- honestly do not convince!- but simply to inform.

Then, if what you do is what they are looking for, they will become a client. If not, they will move on and you didn’t have to work with a client who wasn’t a fit for your offering or twist anyone’s arm.

Here are three solid ways to help potential clients figure out if you can meet their needs:

1. A sales page on your website. This will describe in detail what you do, what you don’t do, who it is for, who it is not for, and cover any other frequently asked questions.

2. A fit call, or chemistry call. Often called a “sales call” but this brings to mind cold-calling people to sell them an extended car warranty they don’t need (yuck). A fit call is what it sounds like: an opportunity for you and the potential client to speak briefly (15 to 30 minutes) to determine if your offering is what they are looking for. This is not a “complimentary session”. No work gets delivered on this call. It’s simply a one-on-one q and a gathering between the two of you where you can better understand what they are looking for, and they can better understand what it is you do.

3. A group q and a session. If you run a business that has sporadic launches- for example an online course which launches once per year, or a productized service which takes on new clients each quarter- sometimes people will host a group event where potential clients can come and get their questions answered. As you may have guessed, this is often utilized for group offerings like classes, masterminds, etc. In large part because if people are considering private practice sessions they likely have some personal reasons for seeking it out, and therefore it doesn’t feel like a safe way to build trust with you to show up in a group and discuss what challenges they are facing personally… that would be better served with a fit call or chemistry call.

Building block #5: Action Steps

The easy part is understanding what marketing and sales are, and brainstorming ways to put those key pieces into place. The harder part is doing it! This is where the rubber starts to meet the road: Now we are announcing what we do, being vulnerable, and risking failure.

Want some more suppor t with that part of the process? I will be talking about it with Michelle Warner in next week’s episode of the podcast, and you can also go back to the Simple Prospering episodes or essays:


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