Do you know where the majority of my client leads came from over the years? It wasn’t referrals.
They were emails from strangers who filled out my contact form. Typically, those emails looked something like this:
I read your article on Mashable about using WordPress and thought it would make sense for us to talk…”
Why would a complete stranger arrive at my website, write me an email, and later turn into a five-figure web design project?
Because I taught them something. I helped them gain some clarity on a subject they’re invested in. I established trust and credibility on that subject, if only just a credible first impression.
Teaching is marketing
In every chapter of my self-employment career, I made writing and teaching part of my job.
Since my very first year as a freelance web designer, I’ve been pitching guest articles to other blogs (starting with small ones and working my way up), speaking at local meetup groups and WordCamps, blogging on my own site and sending out my newsletter. This is what kept my calendar booked with projects for high-paying clients.
When I transitioned to building my SaaS/Productized Service, Restaurant Engine, I stuck with what I knew: An education-based marketing strategy (also known today as Content Marketing). Since day one, we published weekly articles, videos, small ebooks and email courses to help our customer-base attract more customers using their website. This is what established us as a trusted resource, and a credible provider of services to this niche, which in turn fills up our inbound pipeline of customer leads.
In recent months, I transitioned once again into selling an educational product, the Productize course and coaching. I wouldn’t have been able to connect with so many students if I hadn’t invested so much energy into writing articles, teaching on other sites like Mixergy and the Web Agency Podcast, among others.
The point is, no matter what it is that customers pay you for—whether it’s consulting services, a software product, a course or book or anything in between—your job is to teach. Teaching is marketing.
By teaching, you’re able to make connections that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. People search for answers to a topic. You put yourself, your experience, and your lessons “out there” for those people to find.
The first transaction is the easiest: They give you their time and attention, and in return, you teach them something they’re eager to learn. If that first transaction is successful (if they learned something), then the relationship goes to the next level, an email subscription. Then a purchase. Then a repeat purchase. Then a referral.
Along the way, your teaching leads to broader name recognition, which leads to brand awareness, which helps bring you higher rankings in search and social media, which cycles back into more readers, subscribers, leads, and customers.
Now you’re in business, in a large part because you teach.
Selling without forcing
Many of us fear the word “marketing”. We fear the word “selling”.
We’re afraid of coming across as too “salesy” or too “markety”. Forcing our product or service down the throats of an unsuspecting crowd of people. This fear comes from decades of conditioning from TV infomercials and years of Internet spam.
Luckily, we’ve come a long way. Today, we have a much more comfortable, natural, and effective way of doing business online. Teaching.
As sellers of products and services, we don’t need to “push” our product. The only thing we should “push” are our lessons that we proudly teach and give away for free.
Give away answers to your audience’s questions. Give away your solutions to their common hurdles. Give away your best advice to help them get ahead. Give, Give, Give. Not, Sell, Sell, Sell. Doesn’t this sound like a more enjoyable way of marketing yourself online?
As buyers of products and services, we don’t want to be “sold”. We want to trust the people we buy from. We want to minimize risk and feel good about supporting companies and people that do right by us. When I think about the handful of companies I spend money with regularly, they also happen to be run by people I’ve learned from and grown to trust over the years. This isn’t a coincidence.
Education marketing is the way we want to sell products, and it’s also the way customers want to buy products.
Teach and they will come?
So is that it? Just teach and sales will magically come rolling in?
Like anything else, nothing is ever this simple. There needs to be a strategy that connects the dots between your expertise, the things customers are searching for answers to, traffic generation, subscriptions, followup and making the sale.
None of this is free. It’s not even low-cost. Teaching as a marketing strategy, means committing time, money, and effort over an extended period of time.
Let’s look at a few examples for what this might look like:
Blogging is the route that most people try first, and soon give up on for lack due to a lack of traction. That’s because the blog lacked a cohesive, longterm strategy as a teaching engine that attracts customers into your audience.
If you’ve struggled to make blogging work, here are a few ideas you might try next time:
- First, focus on the questions your customers are asking. Most blogs fail because they don’t connect with what readers are actually searching for answers on. When you invest time into knowing who your audience is (or who you want your audience to be), then you’ll have a much easier time connecting.
- Make list-building your goal. Not search traffic. Not social shares. Building your email list is the most important goal you can have for your blog. The more subscribers you gain, the easier it is to keep them coming back for more, which means you’re building relationships that lead to sales. Give away extra bonus content, like post-specific extras, email courses, etc. to attract subscribers.
- Write in batches. Personally, I like writing on a weekly basis as new ideas arise. But if you see writing as a chore, then try batching it all together. Dedicate one full week or two to writing 20-24 articles. Length doesn’t matter as much as the lesson each one delivers. Then queue up all of those articles to publish in your blog and send to your email list. Then repeat this project every few months.
Video & Audio
Some might see video and audio as more work than writing, some might see it as less. Either way, it’s a highly effective way to get your lessons across.
I found that you can form a much closer relationship and build trust faster when people are tuning into you via audio or video than if they’re reading your stuff in an article. The intimacy and expressive nature of these mediums plays into that.
Here are some ideas to think about:
- Start with short videos. Use your webcam and record your answer to one specific question you’ve heard someone (in your target audience) ask. Maybe they’ve asked you, or you saw this question on a forum somewhere. Either way, fire up the camera and answer it just as if you were talking to that person at a conference. Keep it short, focused, and quick to record and publish. You can get fancy with the editing and polish later, but for now, just get started. I suggest using Google Hangouts on Air, since it instantly publishes your recording to YouTube.
- Publish the audio as a podcast. Extract the audio from your video recordings and publish those as a podcast. Now you can attract an audience from both YouTube and iTunes—Two of the most widely searched (and under-valued) search engines.
I have come to love webinars as a format for teaching. What really impressed me about webinars since I started doing them last year was how comfortable I feel when presenting.
When I stand on stage to speak in front of a live audience—even a small room of only 20 people, I get very nervous. My voice shakes, I forget some lines, etc. I’ve been improving as I do more speaking, but I still feel it’s a weak point for me.
But when I’m live on a webinar speaking to hundreds, in a few cases over a thousand people, I’m surprisingly at ease. It must be the comfort of sitting in my office while giving my presentation over the web.
A few tips when it comes to webinars:
- Start by promoting a webinar to your list. Even if you only have a few hundred people on your list, that’s enough to invite them to a live webinar with you on a topic they care about. Existing subscribers are much more likely to join you on a webinar than cold traffic, so it’s a good idea to focus on list-building as a pre-curser to webinars (or do them hand-in-hand).
- Pick the right topic. Like blogging or videos or podcasts, the purpose of your webinar should be to teach a lesson on a topic that your target audience are hungry to learn about. Take time to learn what that is. It should also work well as a lead in to your product.
What will you teach?
Remember, teaching isn’t only for those of us selling educational products like ebooks or courses. I believe we all should be teaching our customers as a way to build trust, credibility, traffic, leads, and sales.
So what should you teach your customers?
The common advice on this is to teach the “what” and sell the “how”. So if you’re selling an ebook or course, you might teach the theory behind the topic, while your paid course includes the specific step-by-step processes, templates, and resources.
In the case of a software, you would teach the “what”—the theory and the strategies on the topic. You’d also teach the “how”—best practices and processes for implementing it. But you’ll sell the tool, your software, to make implementing it way easier and cut out a few laborious steps.
In the case of a productized service, you’d teach the “what” and the “how”, but you’re selling the “done-for-you” solution. Customers gain trust when you teach them “what” the strategies are. They gain comfort in knowing “how” those strategies are put into action. They gain value when they can have it all done for them, rather than spending their own time to do it themselves.
Now get out there and teach. Your customers are waiting.