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A Cult of Heroes

Clients love other folks to hear how great they are, particularly their competitors. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that IPs who talk up their clients have the kind of business relationships that turn other freelancers chartreuse with envy. They tell the world how great their clients are in a variety of creative ways, particularly through their own Web sites, newsletters, or marketing pieces. And they do it by making their clients a part of the process -- interviewing the VP of this or that, shining the spotlight on an employee team, or publicizing a client's community service.

Tracy Schneider, independent professional, speaker, author, consultant, and coach -- and owner of TLS Marketing of Seattle, Wash. -- knows a thing or two (or maybe even three or four) about turning her clients into heroes. It's her job, after all.

According to Schneider, there are two completely different ways to turn your clients into heroes. The first is to make them look great within their organizations (you know, the kind of things that compel your client's boss to hand out raises, promotions, and accolades galore). The second is to make clients look great outside of their organization, to the business community as a whole. It's this latter approach that we'll focus on in this particular column. Stay tuned for a future column that tackles how to make your clients heroes within their organizations.

Schneider says that there are a number of things you can do to shine the spotlight on your clients. Not only will these things help turn them into heroes, but they'll go a long way towards making you a hero in the eyes of your clients.

"If you're a savvy marketer, then you're already out in the industry a lot and out in the community a lot. You're doing things like presentations. You're writing articles for trade publications or association publications. You're going to association meetings. You're on a board or two, and you're attending luncheons and dinners. You have a Web site. You have some kind of a mailer that goes out to your clients and prospects. These are all great opportunities for you to share stories about clients you're working with. It makes you look good, and it makes them look good, as well," she says.

And that's really what we're talking about here -- sharing success stories about the clients you're working with. It doesn't matter what kind of independent professional you are. Anyone -- from a graphic artist, to an advertising copywriter, to an insurance broker -- can become a mini-PR firm, cranking out all kinds of good press about their clients.

"The way you get your clients' success stories out is by putting them up on your Web site," Schneider continues, "or including them in a direct-mail piece to your prospective clients. You should also share these stories at association meetings and in presentations that you give, and in articles you're writing -- everywhere, all the time. We've all heard enough people tell us that if we do these five things, we'll achieve our goals, but it really jazzes up both an interest in you and in what you're saying if you can share a real story. And you can do it with all of those things."

Definitely. But what if you don't go to association meetings to make presentations? And what if you don't write articles for newspapers or magazines? And what if you (heaven forbid!) don't send out thousands of direct-mail pieces to your clients and clients-to-be every other week? What then?

Even if you aren't out there spreading the word about you and your clients' success stories, there's another way -- and it's a way that every IP has at his or her disposal. It's your voicemail box or answering machine.

Says Schneider: "A lot of people have the most boring voicemail messages I have ever heard. Here's the usual, boring message: 'Thank you for calling such and such. Leave your name and number and I'll get back to you.' Ooooh -- that's terrible! Why not jazz yours up with a great client story? You can improve your message instantly, and create a client hero in the process, by adding a one- or two-line client success story to your message. And if you change it often enough so that people aren't going to be bored by hearing the same message over and over again, you'll have a terrific impact on your callers. Just one thing: before you do this, be sure that you get the green light from your client that it's okay to use their name. Otherwise, you may find yourself in some very hot water."

Okay. Sounds good. But what would she do to her voicemail or answering machine to take it to the next level?

"You want to make your point in just a couple of lines; try something like this: 'You've reached [plug in the name of your business],' and give the basic information that you always do, but then add: 'One of our clients -- XYZ Tech -- just won such and such an award, and we're pleased to have been a part of their success. For more information on how we can help make your company a success, just ask.' It's a simple idea, but it's a powerful one, as well. Not only do you make your client's day when he or she hears it, you make them a hero in the eyes of others. And, believe me, the payoff in client goodwill can be tremendous."

The first step is to figure out which medium has the greatest potential for spreading your message. Then you should decide on the message you want to convey, and pick out a success story to tell. Accentuate the positive, and be sure that your client is the focus of the story -- not you or your business.

Finally, be sure that your client sees or hears the message before you use it. If you wrote an article or op-ed piece for a newspaper or magazine and it gets published, be sure to get a copy to your client right away. If you're telling his or her story to others in the community, let your client in on whom you're talking to -- and when and where. You can even send an invitation if you like.

Remember: you have the power to create more powerful client relationships, if you're willing to take the time to do it. Treat your clients like heroes, and they'll do the same for you. And with a mutual admiration society like that in place, you'll have those clients for life.

We'd love to hear your feedback about this column, or put you in touch with Peter Economy if you like. You may also like to see his biography.

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