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Marketing Your Creative Practice Starts with a List

Do you know what the biggest misconception is, among creatives, for marketing their own professional services? It’s confusing the kinds of marketing that they help their clients with: branding campaigns, digital advertising, mass mailing, and other forms of business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing, with marketing methods that work for professional, business-to-business (B2B) services like their own.

There’s a world of difference between strategies and methods that work for B2C marketing, and those that fit professional service marketing.

Marketing a Creative Practice Starts with a List

Marketing professional services starts with building a list of potential prospects. When you’ve established your PinPoint Positioning, there is a finite number of people for you to reach, and they will all be in your target audience. Marketing to consumers means casting a broader net, and could involve building a list of zip codes, or of major metropolitan markets, but not of individuals. If you keep this fundamental difference in mind it will keep you from wasting lots of time and money on methods that just don’t work for professional services.

You can’t afford to broadcast your marketing message to mass audiences, hoping a small subset might need your services. And yet I continually see creatives testing mass advertising methods in their search for new clients. They try digital advertising, radio ads, and such, but these methods simply do not deliver results for a creative practice.

Marketing a creative service requires direct forms of outreach to specific people, who fall within your area of specialization. And that process starts, fundamentally, with making a list of names.

How Should You Go About Building Your List?

But this is where creatives get stuck. Who should be on such a list? How do you go about building one? Should you focus on local businesses, and if not local, how do you filter your criteria so that your list doesn’t consist of millions of people?

PinPoint Positioning to the Rescue

Of course, the answer has to do with PinPoint Positioning. Once you’ve narrowed your focus to providing one primary service, to one primary industry, to solve one main problem, building a list is much easier. Without such a focus you have no essential criteria to even begin the list-building process. And even if you set artificial limits, such as your local region, a generalist message going sent to people on such a list will get lost in the noise.

But when you’ve clearly defined what you do, who you do it for, and how that service benefits them, not only can you identify prospects, but the focus and relevancy of your message will send a clear signal to your prospects.

How Big a List?

Reaching out to people that you add to your list a relatively personal, and individual, effort. Therefore your list has to have an upper limit. My rule of thumb for a healthy list size would be in the 1,000-3,000 range, with an absolute upper limit of around 5,000. Any larger than this and the task of working your list becomes untenable.

Where to Build Your List

A list of even 1,000 names is big enough that you’re going to need some kind of system to manage it. But keep it simple, and keep it flexible. I don’t recommend using a CRM (Customer Relationship Management System) for a prospecting list. There may be a role for a CRM in later stages of marketing, but CRMs tend to be too structured, and inflexible for your initial list.

Rather I recommend starting with a simple Excel or Google Spreadsheet. You don’t need to collect massive amounts of information in your list. Name, LinkedIn URL, email address, and website are more than enough at first.

Processing Your List

You’ll also want to include a few columns to keep track of your activities as you reach out to prospects. For example, you’ll want to note where each prospect stands within your funnel, and what their responses have been. But again, keep it simple. Add a column for your “funnel stage” and mark each prospect as either in the “queue” (if you haven’t started reaching out yet), the “lead” stage (if they have responded in some fashion), the “opportunity” stage (if they’ve asked for more information or have a potential project), or if they’re not interested, or if you decide they are not a good fit for you, mark them as “not interested” or “unqualified.”

Nurturing Priority

For some of these stages, you may want to add one more status column, to note your sense of the degree of their interest. Some leads might be very interested, others merely curious—so for any prospect, in whichever funnel status, you might want to have a “Nurture status” to track “cold,” “warm,” “hot,” or “star” prospects in order to prioritize your follow up efforts.

A general notes field will also be helpful, to keep track of any relevant details from conversations or interactions you may have as you reach out to your prospects.

An Alternative to Simple Spreadsheets

A Google Sheet is really sufficient for list building and processing. But if you want to get a bit more advanced, check out AirTable. It’s a lot more flexible than a CRM, but more structured than a spreadsheet. If you’d like to learn more about AirTable check out my previous article, Marketing Demands Organization. And if you’d like some tips on how to find prospects to add to your list check out Practical, Tactical Marketing for Creative Entrepreneurs.

Admittedly, building a list and manually working through it is not nearly as exciting as many of the advanced digital marketing techniques that our clients may use. But for creatives, as professional services, and not retailers, marketing simply takes a little muscle and some personal determination.

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