Tonight I sent $50 to a woman I have never met. You can read her story on David Armano’s blog.You may even wish to chip in.
But that’s not what this is about. This entry is about trust and the crucial role it plays in attracting, retaining, and enjoying just-right clients. In the process, we’ll see marketing and sales from a different point of view.
Real trust develops over time. Blind trust, on the other hand, is a childish, impulsive decision to put one’s fate in the hands of another, holding the other responsible for how things turn out. It’s an act of sabotage that undermines both the person who is trusting and the person in whom trust is being placed.
So What’s the Point for Self-Employment?
When you work for yourself, trustworthiness is your most important asset. In good times and bad, clients and customers patronize those they trust and avoid those they don’t. This is not news.
Nor is it news that trust takes time to develop. David Armano blogged for three years without asking for anything from his readers before making his request. He had accrued a hefty trust balance in that time.
I’m betting that makes sense to you. But when it comes to your own, are you understanding and patient with the process of client needs to go through before they trust you enough to hire you?
When you’re a good person and you care a lot about your work, it’s natural to expect people to that you are trustworthy without being told. If a prospective client or referral source questions your ability or integrity, you may be defensive or feel that you are being unfairly judged.
But think about it from your customer’s point of view. She doesn’t know that the idea of having an unpaid library fine makes you break out in a cold sweat. And even when you tell her what you do, how it benefits her, and that you’re quite skillful, it takes time and repetition to for her to develop real trust.
Why Marketing and Sales Are Duties You Owe Your Clients
When we market and sell our work, we give prospective clients and customers an opportunity to evaluate our offer. (For our purposes, marketing is making prospective clients aware of your work. Selling is offering and completing an agreement to exchange your work for compensation. Completing the agreement doesn’t necessarily mean making a sale. It simply means that you’ve reached closure.)
Yet many Accidental Entrepreneurs shy away from overt self promotion, afraid it will erode their credibility and cast them in a negative light.
I claim that overt marketing is an essential part of earning the trust of your clients and customers. This isn’t license form tasteless harassment. It’s an injunction to make making your work visible, accessible, and available to prospective clients.
It’s your job to send the message that you want them to receive. And since you are not the center of your clients’ universe, it’s your job to send the message often.
Selling, which I resisted long after I became peaceful about marketing, is another duty we owe our customers. To sell is to claim that we have something to offer and that buyers will get (at least) their money’s worth. It’s a scary claim to make, not because selling is inherently icky, but because we could be wrong.
That’s right. We have no control, ultimately, over the value our clients and customers get from our work. With the best intentions, we will sometimes sell a product or service that is not a good fit. Even when the fit appears to be right, there will be times when the client or customer is dissatisfied.
But that’s no excuse for avoiding sales. The very fact that selling entails some risk proves the importance of making a stand. If we want clients to recognize the value of our work, the least we can do is take a stand and be accountable for the results. This is a powerful trust builder.
Marketing and sales boot us out of our comfort zones. That’s something to celebrate (and not because it proves our superiority to people with a knack for promotion).
We should celebrate our discomfort because it is the clearest possible indicator of what Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, calls our marching orders. These inner mandates may challenge us to be more intentional about money, quote realistic fees instead of second guessing what people might pay, or getting our self-esteem out from between us and our customers.
But I digress.
Into Action: The Trust Game
Get quiet and go inside. Imagine a customer or client you have really enjoyed working with. Make one up if you have to.
Now see yourself doing your best work, caring for them them in an utterly open and non-personal way. It’s as if your work flows through you to them and beyond. Who knows why this is so right? Who is to say what makes it so beautiful? All you know is that it is.
Now imagine yourself talking to a friend about your work from the same space. Not selling in the sense of cold-hearted, self-interested persuasion, but selling the way and inspired chanteuse sells a song to her audience. This is selling as celebration. This is selling without attachment to results.
Now think about the person you are in this exalted state. From this place, notice your conviction with respect to the value of your work when it is experienced by your just-right client. Again this is not about you; it’s about the relationship and the exchange, the giving and receiving on both sides.
This is the you that can speak to prospective clients and customers with passion and authenticity.
Stand up and gently shake your arms and legs.
Sit down again, ideally in another chair, and take on the role of client. Start by bringing to mind a merchant or professional that you love to patronize. Allow yourself to experience the joy of investing in something that really works for you. Notice the dignity that arises from giving your money and receiving something in exchange.
Now let yourself become aware of the fears and reservations you may have had before making this investment. What questions do you have? What concerns? What did you need in order to feel good about the decision to buy?
Notice how you arrived at the point of trusting. What shaped your impressions? What made you feel comfortable?
You may notice elements of traditional marketing and sales. For example, a warm and welcoming website. You may also notice things that, at first blush, don’t appear to have anything to do with marketing. Like being called by name when you enter a store or having a professional listen to you with full presence and attention.
Make a list of all the things you can remember and of everything you notice in the days ahead that causes you to trust someone in a business context.
Read over your list, and imagine how you could produce a similar sense of trust in your own customers. Make a game of it. Keep a Post-it note handy and make a hash mark every time you notice a trust builder you could use. See if you can find 10 of them a day.
If you keep your eyes, ears, and heart open, you’ll notice so many ways to build authentic trust in the course of business that you need never employ one that doesn’t feel right to you.
Approach the matter of building trust playfully, but playful out. If you do you’ll be amazed at how natural self promotion can be. Talking to prospective clients will become easier. You’ll find yourself quoting the right fee instead of trying to guess what the client might be willing to pay. You’ll come to know the delight of doing your best work for clients that it really fits.
Best of all, you will have radically shifted your relationship with yourself. When you work conscientiously at building trust one tiny step at a time, you come to trust yourself regardless of imperfections.
Please let me know how this is going for you.
PS: I’m using voice recognition software these days due to my broken wrist. As you may have noticed, I’m not the world’s best proofreader. God only knows what faux pas have slipped through tonight. If you spot a typo, misspelling, or artifact of editing, you can let me know in the comments. I’ll clean it up.