The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.19

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Marketing Strategy on a Dime: A guide for solopreneur coaches and consultants

A marketing strategy is critical for every business. But how do you develop a marketing strategy when you have to do everything — and you don’t quite know how to go about it? In this article I show you how to develop a marketing strategy for your solopreneur business — quickly and without spending a dime.

What is a marketing strategy (as opposed to a marketing plan)?

Let’s start off making a distinction between “strategy” and “plan”:

A strategy defines what you’re going to do (and sometimes what not)
A plan defines how you’re going to do it.

A good analogy is thinking of a road trip:

  • Strategy: For our weekend trip to the mountains, we will use the car and stick to the highways. There are some beautiful scenes along the way, but we will keep going and make the best time we can so we can spend the least amount of time on the road.
  • Plan: Leave on Friday at noon. Take Highway 8 west. Stop for a break after 90 minutes, then complete the next 90 minutes using Highway 14 north. Arrive at the campsite around 4:00 pm.

Similarly, a marketing strategy will tell us what we’re going to do, and leave the detail of how we’re going to do it for the marketing plan.

Before we look at the detail, we first need to understand why a marketing strategy is important.

Why is a marketing strategy important?

We can of course just do marketing by throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. But this “spray and pray” approach can result in a lot of bad marketing, creating the wrong impressions and wasting a lot of time.

Even a half-way decent marketing strategy will help us craft marketing that:

  • is more client-focused (on our ideal clients)
  • delivers more consistent messaging
  • highlights our competitive advantage
  • is easier to plan and execute

So with that in mind, let’s have a look at what goes into a marketing strategy.

What goes into a marketing strategy?

A marketing strategy for solopreneurs coaches and consultants should contain at least the following:

  • Purpose: why do marketing? If it succeeds, what happens? Typically, the purpose of marketing is to a) grow your subscriber list or b) get people to contact you.
  • Our ideal clients: Specify exactly who they are so we can focus on their needs (and determine where we can find them).
  • The problems we solve for them: What are the pains we can make go away?
  • Differentiation: What makes us stand out, or different from the competition?
  • Inbound vs outbound marketing: will I be doing inbound marketing (publishing content and waiting for them to come to me), or outbound marketing (contacting them to see if I can help)?
  • Where we will be marketing: Which channels to market will we use? LinkedIn? Other social media? Radio ads or billboards?
  • Content pillars: what are the main topics we want to become known for?
  • Key messages: what are the key messages we want to send out into the market?

Most of these points are fairly obvious, but there are a couple that need a little more explanation.

Inbound vs Outbound Marketing

Outbound marketing is where you “go out” to potential clients and see if they’re interested in your services. This kind of marketing requires a lot of research (to find the people you need to speak to), getting through the inevitable gatekeepers and hope you’re catching them at a good time.

Inbound marketing is based on the idea that if they notice you, and they’re interested in what you have to say, they will come to you. Typically, this is done through content marketing (articles or social media posts), public speaking or webinars.

I much prefer inbound over outbound marketing, because when they come to you a) you know they’re interested in what you have to offer, and b) they’re ready to talk. But both types of marketing have their place, so don’t let my preference sway you.

Content Pillars

One of the biggest challenges we have to deal with is what we’re going to talk about - what is our marketing about?

One way to address this problem is to choose a small number of content pillars - the main topics we’re expert in and can talk about at length.

If you choose three or four content pillars (or main topics), and consistently talk about these topics (and sub-topics), you will eventually become known as an expert in those topics. Stand out as an expert, show up consistently and frequently, and people will think of you when they have a problem in your areas of expertise.

Content pillars help us stay focused on our areas of expertise, and generate sub-topics (and sub-sub-topics) to generate ideas for content.

An example of a marketing strategy

Here’s my marketing strategy:

  • Purpose: The purpose of my marketing is primarily to grow my subscriber list. A secondary purpose is to establish my expertise and authority as a subject matter expert. Success will be measured by my subscriber list growth.
  • Ideal clients: My ideal clients are solopreneurs who want to turn their expertise into a reliable income. To do this, they sell their time and expertise. The majority of them are coaches or consultants, and experts in their respective fields. They live all over the world and speak native or good English.
  • Problems I solve for them: They’re experts in their respective fields but are not expert at building a business. As a result, they struggle with overwhelm, don’t know where to focus next and don’t know if what they’re doing is “right”. They don’t have time to sift through all the information out there, and are looking for a more systematic approach to building a business (although they don’t always express it that way).
  • Differentiation: Systems thinking applied to the chaos of building a business. A systematic approach to building a business, addressing all the things you need to get right to be successful (and have a life).
  • Inbound vs outbound marketing: I dislike cold calling (and rejection) so I will be using inbound marketing exclusively. This will mostly be short- and long-form content as appropriate to the channel to market.
  • Channels to market: Primary: Weekly long-form articles to my newsletter subscribers, published on my blog and cross-posted to LinkedIn and Medium (must be optimized for SEO organic search). Daily short-form articles (posts) on LinkedIn. Secondary: guest posts, live event presentations (hosted by related organizations), webinars.
  • Content pillars: Everything I publish is for solopreneurs. The pillars around which I build my (content) marketing strategy are: systems thinking applied to the chaos of building a business, solopreneur life, productivity, overwhelm and time management, and marketing.
  • Key messages: You can have a business and a life. There is a systematic approach to building a business. Stop chasing the flavour of the day. Your business will only succeed if you get the building blocks right.

As a marketing strategy, there are lots of ways we can poke holes in this strategy. One of the things I don’t do (for example) is creating customer avatars - I’ve never found them to help me personally.

But this strategy is working for me, so I will stick with it.

How do you use your marketing strategy?

Once you have a marketing strategy that makes sense:

  • Create a marketing plan. Base it on your strategy. Generate content ideas (based on your content pillars), and specify exactly how often you’re going to show up on each of your channels to market.
  • Measure your marketing content against your strategy. Do you talk about the pains your clients have? Can they identify themselves in your content? Are your key messages coming across loud and clear? Are you sticking to your content pillars?
  • Review quarterly and adjust if necessary. Marketing takes time to work, so schedule quarterly reviews to look at whether your strategy is working and adjust if necessary.

But a strategy is only as good as the execution.

Your strategy is only as good as how well you execute

Marketing strategies can’t be “right” or “wrong”. They can be “good” or “bad”, but ultimately it’s the execution that counts.

Marketing is a long-term game. You have to show up consistently (and frequently) with quality content to get noticed in all the noise out there. Think 12 to 18 months before you start seeing real results.

And this is where most of us fail. I’m still struggling to show up on LinkedIn every day, and I know that for my strategy to really pay off, I have to develop the disciplines, systems and time management to be there. It’s a work in progress.

So don’t overthink your marketing strategy. Keep it simple - this is one case where less is more. Then focus on the execution.

Hope that helps!