I help modest online products and service businesses (like your freelancing practice) going through situations like these…
“I’m getting attention, but I know my site is saying something way too generic. Services I offer, Contact me. Here’s my product, here are the benefits, buy here. I know that won’t do it for the stage I’m at.”
Maybe you’re running a service business in a field that’s on the up and up. Maybe you’re past creating deliverables and you’re more into coaching your clients. Maybe you do very cutom design or animation work and you want to go for the best of the best. Maybe it’s a technical field, like in DevOps, AI/ML, Cybersecurity, Cloud orchestration, SwiftUI, plugin development for e-commerce shops.
“I’m in a specialty that I know there’s a niche for. And my site is starting to get visited, but the services I’m advertising are unremarkable, a little too scattershot, a little too generic. Better clients, that’s what I’m after. But I know I’m not making the case on what I can do for them.”
Maybe you have a product, and you’re in this place…
“I’ve just realized that the page describing my product doesn’t do it justice. It focuses too much on the benefits. I know I can make it communicate more sharply the problem it can help solve for my customers.”
Maybe you’ve hit a snag with your product…
“We thought we knew what to do, but we no longer do. We’re getting cancellations, unused features. Our buyers are using the product for purposes that surprise us. We need to stop and do some research before we continue down this path”
(If this last one is you, check out the separate /prioritize package I’m offering just for product teams. Otherwise, please read on.)
You’re Getting Attention, and What You’re Offering Isn’t Sharp Enough
Here’s how I’d Do It if I Were in Your Place…
Think of those moments when your customers will be wanting to say “enough is enough”, where they’ll start to look for something different. Same-old got too old.
Go beyond just identifying a market and a typical buyer. Go beyond finding a problem you can help solve. Go further than that and identify those situations that are ripe for your visitors to “switch” to you.
Those moments are key, because then you’ll understand what people will switch away from, so they can switch toward what you offer.
So you make a list of some of those moments. Now what? Are these moments real? Without that bit of validation, you’re tempted to revert to just make a page that highlights the benefits, what you’ll get.
But you know you’re missing something. Adding benefits will just make you look like everyone else. You know your services can be put to help a precise struggle, and you want better customers who will tell others about you, not people who are shopping for the lowest price. This is, after all, the Internet you’re working on. You know what makes a message go places.
You want your thing to be remarkable, remark-worthy.
So you know you’ll make a page that highlights the pain, and shows some ways forward, and humbly shows how your thing can be of help, and what to do next. A little like this page you’re reading right now.
A New Structure for Your Site
Home Page: You Understand the Struggle And Offer a Ladder of Options
The Home page highlights one meta struggle.
You make sure you’ve got a value-ladder, a way for people to jump in at the stage they’re at, regardless of their level of sophistication. One way to do that is to offer services, smaller one-offs or subscriptions that land on different “steps” of the ladder.
Newsletters are a great risk-free way for people to try you out. Make sure you’re tending to the forces of progress pushing back in the visitor’s mind, and make sure you find the “job” for which people will gladly “hire” your newsletter. Make sure it delivers.
Another thing on your value-ladder might be a guide or a short ebook or an email sequence (like an email-based course).
As for your professional services, you can have that big “contact me” button (or other ways you can have that call to action), but you might also want to think about packaging your services in a way new-comers can just purchase right away. Maybe it’s a one-off report, a single exploratory call or a critique call or a consulting call that you package. Something that offers clear value, tests the water for the relationship (both ways), and gets you to talk to new people for a predictable price.
A Page for Each Offering, Including Mini-Products
And for each of those offerings, you make its own page. Armed with a very good understanding of the pushes and pulls going on in the mind of the buyer for each of those offerings, you can make those offerings compete against each other (and not against someone else they know). For each, you know the situation that causes someone to part ways with the old, and say yes to something new. You’ve humbly positioned yourself as someone who can help. And maybe you’ll have found someone to spread the word.
What about products? As you see, that also includes some mini products you could sell. Guides and courses and ebooks. Sharpen the pitch pages of those products the same way.
Principles, not a Formula
All this might look like a formula to reproduce. “It’s just a formula for long-form landing pages.”
But it’s about some principles that are underused, but work:
- Focus on a hard struggle. Something that’s a throbbing thumb, a recurring nuisance, something that seems to get worse;
- A long landing page, although optional, gives you multiple chances at making your case, using different words, multiple takes at showing you understand, and still helps those who’ll freely scroll your page anyway;
- It’s not about being sales-y, it’s about being helpful. People just want to make progress, and to get help from someone they can trust;
- Know that you’re mostly in competition with people continuing with their own self-made mish-mash of habits, and in your case specifically, you’re in competition with them doing it themselves. At some point though, the struggle will get stronger. If you sowed trust, they’ll have bookmarked you for later. They’ll be back when it’s time;
- Speaking of competition, you might as well offer multiple options to your visitor. Make each option compete against each other (the main idea behind having a value-ladder), instead of trying to compete with other people. They’re on your site. Help them through their own back-and-forth. Help them make a decision. Even if it’s to go with your free guide or for your newsletter;
- Speaking of newsletters and free stuff, consider everything you write as mini struggle-solvers. You’ll then be able to weave a web of links between what you write and what you offer. That’ll help people vet you, but also, it’ll help them learn it themselves. By the time they hire you (or your product) with money, you’ll have a common language.
“Whoa, I believe you, and also, I’m swamped with work right now, and I’m not great at writing and understanding the buyer like that.”
One way I can help is to take all that over for you.
I could take care of crafting those pages for you, and my process involves deeply understanding those situations which cause your buyers to want to create some movement towards something new. Those situations can be uncovered through just discussing between the two of us, but better if you’d have previous buyers I can interview, or we can find them through buyer research, which I’ll take care of.
We’re talking a few months where I’m working for you part-time on retainer, helping you sharpen your product: you and your services. At the end of our time together, you’ll also have sharpened your understanding of your buyers in a new way.
Or if you already have a good sense of your buyer’s struggles, I could just take care of rewriting a single page.
Doing It Yourself: Q&A
Can I write those kinds of pages through WordPress or Squarespace or Wix?
Sure thing. We’re talking here about longer-style pages with mostly text, so WordPress’s new editor will work well, page builder plugins will work great too, and of course Squarespace and Wix offer page builder UIs of their own.
What helps your page pop out is to sprinkle a little bit of styling to your text to help with visual hierarchy: headings of different sizes, blockquotes that stand out, a couple different types of bulleted lists. I offer the styling as part of my /stepitup package, but any good designer could help with the CSS work on that.
Do you do all the copywriting, including blog posts?
I only write the copy for the marketing pages of your site. I know of a good writer for your blog posts and your guides that I can refer to you, if you’d like.
How do I go about doing the buyer research, like you do?
It starts with a messy process of understanding the buyer’s vocabulary, the options she considers, and mostly, knowing that “doing it myself” is your primary competitor here. What will people do in-house, on their own, or learn how to to build? Go hang out in forums and Slack communities, and listen for the pains and struggles. Then your research might take you to conduct purchase interviews, a specific technique that retroactively looks at the story of a purchase (of a competitor, of a piece of software to do it themselves, or a hire). What’s needed: that the buyer went through a good amount of deliberation before the purchase. Here’s a list of questions you could use during this Purchase Interview.
Do I have to understand the Jobs-To-Be-Done theory, which I see you talk about a lot in your articles?
The Jobs-To-Be-Done theory of buyer behaviour (here’s an intro with some examples) is pretty central to the practice I propose you take up. It insists on concepts like the “struggling moment” being the requirement for any start of a purchase journey, the main trigger for of all jobs-to-be-done. It talks about the Four Forces of Progress, “non-consumption” being your major competition, and how you compete with surprising other alternatives. It’s a strong lens you can use, and I highly recommend it.
“Bah, it’ll take too long to figure it out if I do it myself, and I don’t want to miss the boat. How can we team up?”
Here’s what I have to offer:
/visualize – A consulting call. Preceded by an email exchange to learn how I can help, the focus of the call (the main value to you) will be about consulting you on what to do next. Additionally, our discussion will give me the information I need to put together a proposal for further work for you, if that’d be helpful (I won’t try to upsell you). CDN$ 250, including our back-and-forth over email ahead of the call and the call itself (about an hour). I’ll wave the fee if you choose to go with the next package:
/stepitup – For your service business, a monthly retainer to evolve your site to include a value-ladder of options (a bit like these options I’m listing here). Each month, we sharpen your site in one meaningful way, and we sharpen your understanding of your buyers via some research. Plus you get my availability to get answers to your questions, learn what I’m finding on the web, hang out in your Slack. If you’ve already got a good idea of the struggle of your buyer and just need one page done, I’ve got a one-pager option too.
/prioritize – For product teams, a research boost to focus your product priorities. When you’ve got to take a pause and dig into what motivated your buyers to “hire” your product. Maybe you’re getting cancellations, or people aren’t using the features you’ve developed, and you’re left a little surprised. You can’t continue building and building, and need to start questioning a little bit more.
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You just want more lift happening. You want to help your customers lift themselves to newer heights, and that’s exactly what I want for you.
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
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