A Simple Question that Equals a Steady Stream of Writing Clients

Woman talking and writing on laptop in coffee shop

Today, I’m going to ask you to play a simple word game with me.

Don’t worry, it’s an easy game to play. And by the time we’re done, you’ll know an easy way to get new clients.

Here’s how the game works:

Without reading any further, make a list of the last five people you’ve had a conversation with. Not necessarily a long conversation, but more than just, “Hello.”

Got it? Here’s mine:

  1. The mailman
  2. A guy who we may hire to paint our house
  3. A guy in Starbucks who asked me to watch his computer while he went to the men’s room
  4. A woman in my neighborhood who I ran into at the supermarket
  5. The man behind the counter at CVS when I went in to pick up a prescription

So, here’s the question … how many of the people on your list are potential clients?

In my case — and I bet yours too — it’s maybe one (and more likely, zero).

No surprise there. Most of the people we meet, day in and day out, are not prospects for our writing businesses — and never will be.

Sure, you may attend a networking meeting now and then that’s filled with potential prospects. But most days, most conversations are had with random, never-gonna-buy people we barely know.

Which is why it seems to me that traditional “elevator statements” — highly polished, benefit-laden, well-rehearsed sentences in which we seek to impress, generate interest, and start down the road to a sales conversation — have limited opportunity to be put to use.

Not because we don’t want to impress, generate interest, and start down the road to a sales conversation. And not because they don’t help, given the right situation.

It’s just that the vast, vast majority of people you interact with every day will never be in a position to hire you. The truth is, they are not potential clients.

But there is a way to use casual conversations to gain new clients.

What if, in addition to planning for those few and far between prospect discussions, you spent time figuring out what to say during the frequent, casual conversations you have every day?

The ones where somebody innocently asks, “What kind of work do you do?”

Make Word-of-Mouth Work for You

Done well, answering the question isn’t about impressing or generating interest.

It’s about this, and nothing more: Getting them to remember what you do so they can tell other people.

Why is that so important? Because that’s how word-of-mouth works.

Two people are sitting at a football game. Or having lunch. Or standing barefoot together in a big barrel on the deck stomping cranberries in preparation for Thanksgiving dinner (is that just my family?), and one of them says the magic words:

“Do you know someone who can help with … ?”

When that happens, and assuming you’ve done the spade work of telling lots of people over lots of casual interactions what you do, your name pops into the head of somebody’s cranberry-stomping brother-in-law and he tells the other guy about you.

Your description has to be super-simple and specific

People don’t go looking for solutions to their problems “in general.” They have specific needs, in specific situations.

Which is why until the day arrives that somebody leans over to a friend at the local bar and asks, “Hey, by the way, can you recommend a smart, experienced, well-rounded copywriter with a proven track record of increasing sales leads and profitability among a range of clients and industries?”, you’re wasting your time describing yourself that way.

Here, for example, are three answers to the “What do you do?” question developed by some of my clients:

“I help hospitals meet their real estate needs.”

“I help couples in divorce maintain mutual respect.”

“I help public agencies recover overcharges from their utility providers.”

Are they oversimplifications? You bet they are. But that’s your only option if you hope to be understood and remembered.

Note as well that none of these three sentences talks about credentials, experience, results, or methodology.

Why not?

  1. Because the person you chat with during one of these casual encounters doesn’t care and will never remember that kind of detail anyway.
  2. Because when the “Do you know someone … ?” question is asked, all people are looking for is to be pointed in the right direction.

Your one and only goal at this early stage is to be the person to whom others are pointed.

Are sales skills, experience, credentials, and client examples important in getting somebody to hire us? Absolutely. Until a prospective client is convinced that we’re worth spending money on, it’s never going to happen.

But most conversations — the casual conversations with near strangers which will ultimately lead to word-of-mouth on your behalf — take place way before any selling occurs.

So try this: Find a way to describe what you do in a single sentence, one that includes both the audience you serve (e.g., “hospitals”) and the primary problem you address (e.g., “real estate needs”).

Keep it narrow, keep it simple, and keep it free of jargon.

Make it the kind of sentence you’d be comfortable sharing with any of the five people on the list you made earlier. (Hint: If it doesn’t feel to you like an oversimplification, you’re not doing it right!)

If you want the word-of-mouth machine to churn for your benefit, sending a steady stream of potential clients your way, simplify the description of what you do so that other humans can understand it, remember it, and pass it along when the opportunity arises.

Do you have any questions about setting yourself up for word-of-mouth success? Let us know in the comments so we can help.

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Published: January 16, 2020

4 Responses to “A Simple Question that Equals a Steady Stream of Writing Clients”

  1. Love the simplicity of the message-

    1- word-of-mouth might work, but I don't see how we can control anything: who gets the msg and when, how is it shared, what kind of response, are there any questions, etc...

    2- what if I don't deal with a specific tribe/niche/type of client but rather offer a TYPE of service: eg Case Study, email marketing, etc..

    How do I address this in your otherwise very simple question?

    Th. you to light my path.

    Andre P.

    Andre NORTHJanuary 16, 2020 at 12:28 pm

  2. I have an answer to that question but I'm not sure if it's quite right. My answer would be "I help businesses give their customers the knowledge to make smart buying decisions".

    After reading the article I feel it may be too much and yet not enough.

    Tammy WJanuary 16, 2020 at 9:44 pm


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