Jessica Wicks

Networking, Marketing and Sales… Oh My!


I, too, have been afraid of selling. To be vulnerable. To make the other person awkwardly have to say ‘no’.

You need to have your mindset in the right place to go out there and sell your products or services. I know a lot of us get a little weird when it comes to asking people to open their wallets. Yet how you feel about asking your customers for money comes across in every interaction you have with them. Online and off, sales-driven or not.

The shift you need to make in your business is switching your mindset from taking to giving.

Sounds simple, right?

Now, there are definitely “sleazy sales people” out there who will do or say anything to make a buck; we, as their victims, have learned that selling is an aggressive and awkward invasion of someone’s space. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s not any of us. It’s like I always tell my son when we’re going over safety rules or he hears something scary on the news: most people in the world are genuinely good.

We want to be good people. Want to be loved. To do the right thing. We all make mistakes, too. But the point is, most of us don’t want our loved ones, our customers, or even ourselves to identify us with “the sleazy sales person”.

You don’t have to be seen that way. Every single one of us has a product or service to offer that someone needs. They might need it a little or they might need it desperately, but if you don’t let them know that you have a solution to their problem, you can’t help them.

Now, I know some of you are nodding along because you can see exactly how you help people, but some of you are thinking ‘my business doesn’t solve problems’. To you I say: you need to rephrase your definition of the word problem. Often, people aren’t even aware of a problem they have until they see a solution. You might be selling someone a product that makes their house feel more like a home, or writing a book that gives your reader a couple hours to escape into another world. People need all of these things.

Problems aren’t always obvious.

If you think about how non-profits raise money, it logically makes no sense for a person to donate. Think about it for a minute. If you’re a fundraiser for a non-profit, you need to be able to go up to someone and ask them to give you money when they will receive nothing in return. They know that part of the money they give you will go to the operation of the charity (including your salary), and the rest of the money is going to help someone they have never met. To solve someone else’s problem.

Asking someone for money and offering nothing in return is considered begging in most circumstances.

But any good fundraiser knows it’s not just someone else’s problem that the donation is solving. Some people – not all, but some – will give you the money. They do this because it solves a problem they have themselves. Maybe they’re feeling guilty that they have more than they need and that they just spent $5 on a latte when people around the world are going hungry. Or they could get a boost to their ego when they tell their friends they’ve supported your cause. They might wish they could quit their job and spend their lives doing charity work (or at least volunteer after work), and feel bad that they haven’t. Maybe they believe that the more they give, the more they will receive. Heck, they might just need a tax credit.

Selling isn’t shameless.

Actually, who cares if people think it’s shameless?

Amanda Palmer wrote a book about giving people the opportunity to help. She spent years as a street busker and crowdfunded an album after leaving her music label. This quote may be my favourite from the book:

[blockquote type=”type-1″ align=”align-left” sc_id=”sc1473547484210″]”People were calling me shameless, but I decided to take that as an unintended complement. Wasn’t shame bad? Like fear? Nobody uses fearless as an insult.” – Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking[/blockquote]

I will happily offer to help people without shame – anytime, any day.

Even I need a reminder now and then that it is OK to promote myself.

I’m an introvert, and with that comes some amazing benefits I wouldn’t trade for the world. Selling isn’t one of them. My particular brand of introversion also comes with an irrational fear of big crowds, talking to strangers and being the centre of attention. I like to think I hide it well, but it’s there.

Just a couple months ago, I attended a business networking event where I didn’t know a soul. I had moved across the country and spent months in a self-inflicted social hibernation. Now, being my typical wallflower self, I nearly didn’t go. I had been finding an excuse to skip these events for months, despite putting them on my calendar.

After locating the venue – a little bar at the base of an office building – I drove around the block a couple of times to calm my nerves. Finally parking the car about two blocks away, I shakily walked up to the pub. People were packed into the tiny room, overflowing into crowds outside the door. I pushed my way through the groups at the entrance. Taking one look at the crowded room, and made a beeline for the washroom. I locked the door, looked at myself in the mirror, and said out loud “Jessica, you are not here to ask anything from anyone. You’re simply here to learn about the problems people are having and let them know you if you can help.”

If you share what problem you solve with enough people, clearly and enough times, they’ll come to you when they need help. That’s the core of what marketing is.

I made a handful of connections that night – most that never responded to my follow-up emails – and someone I had met there ended up giving me a great referral about a week later.

There are worse things in the world than having someone say ‘no, thank you’.

Imagine that non-profit never told anyone about the work they were doing. That they never shared the stories of the people they were helping, never gave you the opportunity to solve your own problems by giving. How sad would it be if they were so scared of people saying no that they never put themselves out there and gave them a chance to say yes?

Next time you’re writing your sales copy, marketing your services, or attending a networking event in a crowded pub, remember your reason for selling: to give people to opportunity for you to solve a problem for them.

When you sell from a place of integrity, you can be fearless. You can be shameless and feel good about it.

‘Sell’ is not a four letter word…. not a dirty one, anyway.


How niche is too niche? Specialization is a marketing tool


Time and time again, I work with clients who want to be everything to everyone. And the truth is, I get it. I’ve been there, and I occasionally have to do an audit of my own services to be sure I’m not falling into that old rut again.

When you are able to provide a lot of services, it’s easy to think “why not?” When a client asks you to do something you’re capable of but isn’t what you’re building your business around, it can be difficult to say no to those extra dollars – especially when you’re starting out.

Here’s the problem with doing a little of everything: you specialize in nothing. When you’re scared of losing out on a sale (even when it’s something that’s totally not your jam), you actually end up losing out on those awesome dream clients who want you to do exactly what you do best for them.

So what makes you different in a desirable way?

Do you work with a certain size client, a specific industry, or on a specialized platform? Or do you have a very specialized service offering?

The old business adage is: if you market to everyone, you’re actually marketing to no one.

This is because marketing requires a bit more finesse than you can accomplish by simply slapping your logo or ad somewhere and walking away. That’s called ‘spray and pray’ (i.e. spend a ton of money and hope that something sticks). And it doesn’t work. Even if you get a whole whack of leads from it, your conversion rates are going to suck – basically, people might slow down to read what the signs you’ve plastered on every street corner say, but that doesn’t mean they’ll open their wallets for you.

So what does drilling down to a specific niche do for you?

It lets you know exactly who to target and how to find them. It means that when you write your customer newsletter or begin to offer new features, you can relate it to what’s going on in the world of those specific clients. And it means when someone who fits your client profile is looking for some help, you’re positioned perfectly to be the expert they choose instead of being one of the many generalists out there to choose from.

I can hear you now: “But Jessica, I don’t want to scare away potential clients by focusing on one service” or “I don’t have a lot of time to spend profiling my clients. I’m busy actually trying to pay the bills and handle the work I’ve already got”

Strategically picking your niche or specialty and defining what problem you solve for clients will help you create a marketing plan that reaches the people who need you and are willing to pay for what you do because it is worth it for them. A few extra hours fine-tuning your plan can save you countless hours (and dollars) down the road.

It also means that you can keep up on the trends and changes related to your services. Because you are focusing in one area, you can create a standard process for working with your clients (hooray for an easier workflow!), and communicate that process up front. Honestly, a process is a pretty valuable thing in a service based business.

Marketing yourself as an expert in a niche field is far easier than trying to go broad because at the heart of every marketing plan are word-of-mouth and referrals that fly through a niche, making it easy for your ideal customer to choose you. The longer you’ve been specializing, the larger portfolio or client roster you develop, and the more well known you become for what you do.

So, how niche is too niche? 

If there aren’t enough clients who fit your profile or need your service for your business to be profitable, you’re going to need to zoom out a little. Especially if there is a lot of competition for what you do. It’s going to be different for everyone, but having actual conversations with your potential clients is the best way to validate that you’re on the right track.

Whatever you choose right now, rest at ease that it can adapt over time while you grow your business.

Now what should you do if you’re not well known for a specialty and just need to pay the bills?

Chances are, even though you market to a specific audience you’ll still get requests for other work that’s not really up your ally. Or you might think of a quick and easy service offering that you can do short-term that will help cover some costs (although, if it’s so easy and profitable why isn’t it your main gig, huh?).

To help you decide when it’s worthwhile to take on some of those ‘extra’ jobs, here are a few criteria I suggest considering:

[list list_type=”0″ animation=”” actions=”icon-angle-double-right^icon-angle-double-right^icon-angle-double-right^icon-angle-double-right^icon-angle-double-right” colors=”#016a7d^#016a7d^#016a7d^#016a7d^#016a7d” list_item_content=”Are you ok with doing the work but not adding it to your portfolio, case study, testimonial folder or client list? You don’t want to confuse your future clients about what you actually offer.^Could the time you spend completing the job be used to find more relevant work? Knowing how busy your schedule is will help you figure this one out.^Is the work for an existing client who uses or will use your preferred services? While it can be worthwhile to do a small job to please an existing customer, you also run the risk of sending the wrong message.^Will you be able to complete the work to your current standards? By doing a poor job on something you are not specializing in, you send a bad message about your abilities.^Will the project be profitable? Is the value you provide worth your regular rate (or higher), or will you need to spend a lot of additional time getting up-to-date and researching to do the job properly?” sc_id=”sc1464745079110″]

Cutting services and narrowing your market demographic can be scary, but it is the best way to become specialized and distinguish your offering from the competition.