Avoid This Mistake When Selling Your Services by Bob Bly

Posted December 14th, 2011 by Nelson Tan. Filed under Uncategorized

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?” asks JT. “Let me start by saying that my only reason for writing these e-mails is that I want to work with you, because I think we could both benefit from collaboration.”

JT continues: “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 marketing. And it almost never works.

The basis of this horribly inappropriate and ineffective selling 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. After all, you are doing someone a favor by helping them correct a defect that could be hurting their business, right?

So you’d naturally 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 only valued if three conditions exist: (1) the advice is sought after (i.e., they asked for it), (2) it is positive and not negative or insulting to the recipient, 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 do it?

The fact that she is spending her time proofreading copy for strangers without compensation tells me she probably isn’t very busy…and that she needs more business.

Your prospects prefer to work with vendors who are successful and in demand, not with those they perceive as desperate and needy.

Second, she insults me by 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 we had a typo on a landing page because we are bad proofreaders.

She’s wrong. The real reason why 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’s idea of giving unsolicited advice to strangers violates the Silver Rule of Marketing, first articulated to me by marketing consultant Pete Silver.

Peter 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), in which case JT is pursuing an unqualified prospect.

Even if I had been interested in her offer, JT would have to work hard to convince me that she is the proofreader I should hire.

After all, I’ve never heard of her before, 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 these 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—write a column on proper English for a respected business magazine, create a course on copyediting, speak at conferences on the importance of proper business English—that position her as an expert in correct writing.

By doing so, I might have come running to JT for help, instead of running away from her.

Bob Bly is the author of “World’s Best Copywriting Secrets” and has written copy for more than 100 companies including IBM, Boardroom, Medical Economics and AT&T. He is the author of more than 75 books and a columnist for Target Marketing, Early To Rise and The Writer. McGraw-Hill calls him “America’s top copywriter”.

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