Do you struggle to market your business? You’re not alone. The truth is, the better you are at helping others, the worse you probably are at selling your services. It all comes down to “the curse of understanding,” which basically means that the expert (who has the deepest, most nuanced understanding of how to solve the problem) is cursed by her knowledge when she tries to sell her services.

Why? I’ve got a story for you …

I started my business because I was blown away by the power of a change management system called “improvement science.” I found myself endlessly fascinated by the ins and outs, the protocols, and the exercises. ‘This could change the world!’ I thought.

I wanted to share my new knowledge, to help others discover the joys of the PDSA. So I started creating workshops on the topic of change management.

They went okay. People said they liked them, but I found that they were having a hard time with the theory and they really only lit up when we talked about their problems. I sort of felt like they were humoring me: “Fine, if you need to talk about the power of iteration to get around to telling me what to do to fix my problem, then I’ll give you that time, but pick up the pace.”

What I had to learn was that although my own enthusiasm for the ins and outs of improvement science was massive and neverending, it wasn’t translating. They didn’t care.

My clients, the people I wanted to actually benefit from that knowledge, wanted my help in getting results and weren’t looking for an inside look at methodology.

who is my ideal customer

Still not sure what I mean?

Okay, let’s say you’re a driver and there’s a brand-new bridge that can shorten your commute by a half an hour if you use it. There’s some information you definitely want to have about that bridge before you decide to switch up your commute.

  • Is the bridge open?
  • Does it have a lot of driving lanes?
  • Is there a toll?
  • Is it safe?

What you don’t need to know is what materials were used, how much torque it can withstand, and how it was constructed. How annoying would it be if the bridge commission put out an ad trying to get people to take the new bridge and their way of convincing people to take it was to tell them, “The spacing between the crossbars is a full quarter of an inch closer than other, competing bridges”?

Totally misses the point. Just tell me how much the toll is going to cost me!

who is your ideal customer

What if you really like learning about how bridges are built?

Great question. Some people really do love knowing that stuff. In fact, almost everybody has something they are super nerdy about.

Most likely, your potential clients aren’t your nerd club. So go find your fellow bridge-lovers, meet for coffee, and then you can compare notes on cement and supports. For me, that means finding my fellow coaches and swapping stories about how the human brain learns to change.

When a potential client wants help, though, stop with the theory and start speaking the language of their problems.

Wait – how does this make me feel better about being bad at marketing?

Here’s the secret: the very thing that makes you great at what you do is very likely the reason you’re bad at marketing.

Look, you know what your clients need to do, you know why they need to do it, and you rock at walking them through it and delivering them to a better place. But because of your deeply nuanced understanding of your work, when it comes to marketing, you are likely leading with the wrong stuff.

You are inclined to try to convince them about how great the steps are inside the solution, but they actually only need to be convinced of one thing: you can take their problems away.

My online course used to be called The Nature of Change, and that was okay…ish. But it ramped up so much more and led to so many more new clients when I sharpened the workshop up and changed the title to Success is an Inside Job: Hack Your Brain to Grow Your Business.

It was actionable – we’re talking brain hacks! It was specific – we’re talking about your business! People knew right away if they were interested, and didn’t have to speculate about what the coursep might cover. They knew.

identifying your ideal customer

How do you market if you’re bad at marketing?

Apple doesn’t ever tell you how they make iPhones, but they will tell you, over and over, exactly how having an iPhone will make your life easier.

Are you lost all the time? There’s an app for that. Are you unsure where to eat? There’s an app for that too! The list goes on and on, and never includes mentions of code, GPS, integrations, or how many times information goes to a server before it comes back to you.

When it’s time to dig into marketing, it helps to shift your thinking. Get good at describing the problem your potential clients have – they feel stagnant and they feel crappy about feeling stagnant. Tell them that you know they can feel better (because it’s true).

Tell them stories about the people you’ve helped. Tell them how your previous clients started out feeling just like they do and then paint them a picture of how great, successful, and calm they felt after working with you.

Do you see how there’s nothing in the middle? You don’t have to tell them how any of it happened, only that you know it works and that you’re going to walk them through it if they’re ready.

And p.s. that also means you don’t need to berate yourself for not being great at marketing. You’re great at something already, which is why you need marketing in the first place – to get the message out there. The message isn’t an inventory of everything that’s in your toolbox; the message is, “I can use my toolbox to help fix something that’s wrong in your life.”

If you can make this shift, you’ll find out a surprise: you can be good at marketing after all.

You also might need a little help, but I’ve got you covered there. I’ve created this helpful worksheet, How to Speak the Language of Your Ideal Client to help you nail down the actionable language that you need to market your services and connect to your ideal client. Click the link below to snag it!

ideal client profile

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About the author

Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist and business coach who helps accidental entrepreneurs get more clients and have a bigger impact. She is the author of Great Work, the host of the Unleashing Your Great Work podcast, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda's TEDx talk has received almost two million views and has been featured on TED's Ideas blog and Ted Shorts. Her ideas have also been featured on NPR, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and Thrive Global.