Let’s take a moment to sing the praises of counterintuitive moves that propel our businesses to a whole new level.
Every so often, you try something completely different. And every so often, it really works.
Take Jelle Annaars, for example.
Jelle has spent years offering copywriting services to a long list of clients. But when he shortened that list, business improved.
He’s also spent years building a robust online presence. But when he incorporated offline techniques, that’s when things took off.
And he became a Copyblogger Certified Content Marketer by submitting writing samples in English — and English isn’t his first language!
Jelle’s story is this month’s Hero’s Journey feature. We’re tapping the collective wisdom of our community members to bring you reports from the front lines of the content marketing world. See all the Hero’s Journey posts here.
Read on as Jelle shares the counterintuitive moves that have made a difference in his business.
The nail-biting decision that now seems obvious
Jelle Annaars: I’m a content marketing consultant and copywriter. I often tell people I’m a one-man agency for content marketing: I do content strategy, planning, and production. I work mainly with small businesses that have 20-250 employees.
I give my clients a bird’s-eye view of both their current content marketing efforts and future possibilities. That’s the strategy part.
When they need to actually produce content, they can rely on me as well, since I’m a trained writer. And because I dig deep into their industry and their business, there is no “handover.”
I view my collaboration with clients as an in-depth business partnership.
I decided a while ago that I wanted to work with a small number of clients that I build deep professional relationships with — which helps differentiate me from other service providers.
My focus is on tech companies.
Choosing a niche was probably the hardest decision I’ve had to make as a consultant, but looking back, it should have been a no-brainer.
Everything improved once I committed to one niche.
An unusual move that’s working well
Jelle Annaars: I mainly market online, but I’ve branched out to offline recently.
I focus on the Dutch-speaking market in Belgium, and I’ve realized there’s a huge untapped potential for me to market myself offline.
Offline interactions with my audience may have less reach, but they have a lot of impact.
I’m adding speaking opportunities to my marketing mix now, and I’m very excited to see the results. And I’m doing a lot more phone calls lately.
Counting the blessings of self-employment
Jelle Annaars: Autonomy and personal development are both super important to me.
I’m quite curious and always looking to learn new stuff. As an employee, I needed to ask for permission every time I wanted to learn something new or attend a conference. Today, I decide that on my own.
Then there’s the freedom to work whenever I want, wherever I want.
I also value the variety of clients and tasks.
As Sonia Simone put it so well a while back, “I have a high tolerance for stress, but a low tolerance for boredom. That’s why I got started on my own.”
I completely relate to that.
From content supermarket to exclusive high-end caterer
Jelle Annaars: At one point, less than a year ago, I described my business as a bit of a “supermarket for content.”
I had 20-30 regular clients who came to me when they needed something like a blog post or an email, usually at the very last minute. Many were advertising or marketing agencies.
That model didn’t work for me.
Personally, I prefer to build deep relationships with a few people rather than being a social butterfly. I realized my business didn’t reflect that.
I’m very focused on delivering lots of value, and I couldn’t provide maximum value using the “supermarket” model, because I wasn’t as closely involved with clients.
It was also financially less rewarding. I was generating lots of invoices — but they were tiny, and my total earnings were small. It used to be that if I had four to five billable hours in a day, that was a good day.
Then one day I decided I wanted a different type of business. I purposely looked for deeper client relationships that I could invoice on a retainer basis.
I realized I could serve about six or seven clients well using this model, and I changed my business accordingly.
This involved saying no to some previous clients — including all advertising agencies. It also meant I sometimes needed to say no to new prospects.
It was a bit counterintuitive at first but really worked out for the best.
I am very happy I made that decision.
I’m working with a smaller group of clients on a retainer basis and getting to know their businesses better and better. The difference is night and day!
My stress level has dropped dramatically because I don’t have to look for new clients all the time. I also have significantly more financial security.
Today, I’m booked solid.
Your calendar fills up pretty quickly when you offer in-depth collaboration on a retainer basis. And I’m confident that the moment I have room for a new client, that slot will also fill up quickly, because word gets around.
Digging deep and daring to dream
Jelle Annaars: Something that’s working well for me right now is what I call deep networking.
I go to many digital marketing events in Belgium and I keep meeting digital media professionals. I stay in touch with them through Twitter and LinkedIn. I enjoy interacting with this crowd because I genuinely like them and want to be a part of the community. I don’t try to pitch myself; I just try to be helpful and fun to be around.
As a result, this type of networking has landed me a few great jobs.
Another practice I cannot recommend highly enough is taking one day a week to spend time on your own business.
Whether you use the time for reading, attending conferences, perfecting the way your business works, deciding which direction you want your business to take — it doesn’t matter.
It’s very counterintuitive to say no to a client or prospect because you’re booked to work on your own business, but do it anyway.
You might not be able to invoice that day of work, but you’re increasing your long-term value and doing your future self a huge favor on all fronts.
The Rainmaker Digital products Jelle uses
Jelle Annaars: I use the Rainmaker Platform, and I recently experimented with the sales and membership features to sell a webinar and make it available afterwards.
I’m in the middle of building a course that I will host on the Platform. I’m also experimenting with the email marketing features.
I’m a Certified Content Marketer, and I do not hesitate to show my certification badge at any appropriate moment.
I still refer back to the material in the Certification program. The central idea of transforming from a copywriter into a content marketing consultant was an eye-opener for me.
I have used what I’ve learned from Rainmaker Digital to sell and produce a webinar, and I am working on a larger video course right now, called the “Content Marketing Blueprint” (in Dutch only, sorry).
Onboarding, productizing, courses, and more
Jelle Annaars: I like the new direction of my consultancy a lot and want to further improve my practice, especially when it comes to client collaboration. I’m thinking about adding universal client onboarding and off-boarding processes, an online client area to organize all materials, and a briefing process.
I’m also considering “productizing” my services by offering a few packaged services with fixed prices.
Furthermore, this year I’m launching my first full course. It’s going to be a mix of online and offline lessons with my students.
I’m very excited to expand my business in that direction and be able to help people I can’t work one-on-one with for whatever reason.
Gratitude and inspiration
Jelle Annaars: I’d just like to say a word of thanks to Copyblogger.
I once was an aspiring copywriter who was desperate to get into the business but had no idea how to go about that.
At a time when it was hard to find people who would invest time and energy in training me, I found Copyblogger and was able to more or less train myself just by reading the blog.
I may well owe my current career to you.
The generous knowledge Copyblogger shares every day is still a huge inspiration.
Find Jelle Annaars online …
- SuperContent.be (in Dutch)
- Twitter (in Dutch and English!)
Thanks to Jelle for appearing in our Hero’s Journey series.
Do you have questions for him? Ask them in the comments.
We’ll be back next month with another story to teach, inspire, and encourage you along your journey.
Reader Comments (23)
Nathan Reiche says
Thanks for your candidness and insights Jelle! Really great to hear stories like this of real people who are sticking-to-their-guns and being rewarded for it! I’ll be referring back to this article in the future I’m sure. Well done.
Jelle Annaars says
Yep — it’s a bumpy ride no matter what they say 🙂
Nikhil Makwana says
Digging deep and finding a new treasure is like a magical moment for us when we find the treasure in our niche.
Pamela, I completely agree with you about the situation you explained, when we must have to take the hard decision in a quick manner. We need to be active and build extraordinary, or I can say unseen type content for that treasure to cover all the possible opportunities.
Your write-up is admirable and defiantly, I will share with my network as I have found one more treasure in your words. 🙂
Jelle Annaars says
Dirk Annaars says
The proud father!
Jelle Annaars says
Hello, Jelle. Thanks for sharing your story. You have made a long way and it is cool that you have finally achieve what you wanted. My professional path has been somehow similar to yours. I am a programmer and I started out on a freelance marketplaces like this, where I did small jobs for various companies and entrepreneurs. Over time I got tired of the constant turnover of tass and employees. To add more, I could not find any long-term projects or large jobs. I decided to narrow the niche and turned to enterprise development. I built an accounting app and got an offer from a developer to enter their team as a junior developer.
Can you speak more of productizing your services? I am not quite sure I fully understand the concept. A dictionary says to productize means to make something into a product which can be sold. But I am not sure how you interpret it.
Jelle Annaars says
Thanks Robin! Do a search for Brian Casel when you want to understand productizing.
Wally Barr says
Great post! There are many benefits of niche or specialization in almost every business. I think it is because of focus and de-cluttering. You would be surprised how much your skills are in demand when you actually turn business down. But always put them in touch with someone who can help them. You are still a star then. A brighter star because you have impacted 2 lives not just one.
Mel Wicks says
Hi Pamela and Jelle,
Thanks for sharing. I have just signed up for Copyblogger’s Certified Content Marketer Program and this post articulated everything I was hoping the program could do for me. You are an inspiration, Jelle, and I hope I can follow in your footsteps. I too have a really strong but small (about 6-8) client base and I have been working as a business and marketing writer with most of them for at least 2-3 years. I work so closely with one they have given me remote access to their server, and another has provided me with a company branded business card because they see me as part of the team. My problem is they are all based in my home town in Australia and I want to spread my wings a bit. I want to be able to spend 6-12 months living elsewhere but continue to run my consulting business. I left the corporate world at the beginning of 2014 and I am earning more now than I was then. But I’ve only got as far as my home office and I’m shooting for New York, London and Hong Kong!
Pamela Wilson says
Welcome, Mel! And here’s to working in far-flung locations in your near future. 🙂
Wow, bold plans – I like that! I found Double Your Freelancing a great resource to complement the Certified Writers course. And get a good coach to be sure you take actual action!
Nicolas Puegher says
These are amazing tips! I’m still learning there is always something new to learn every day. Knowing your niche is important and could take a time to find different topics inside your main niche, following other people to see what they do can help a lot.
The bad thing about doing that is that what makes results now for them will not work for us, they have an active audience while we don’t. They were not doing what they are doing now back then when were like you just starting.
Great that you get so much out of it! My advice would be to focus on audience first and then define the most appropriate content.
Umer Prince says
A good guide to discover the gold in any niche, but tell me that how we can see real gold by digging deeper ?
I mean how we can see that there is potential available or not.
A tip is to rate niches using the ‘3 As’: are they Ambitious enough to work with you? Is the niche easily Accessible through confs or otherwise? Can they Afford you?
S Taus says
Good post! There are many specialisations in almost every business as you say, but knowing your niche is important and it takes time to find this specialisations, as I did with my small business, just… DON’T GIVE UP!
Love this … “Personally, I prefer to build deep relationships with a few people rather than being a social butterfly.”
Me too! Just having someone else say it helped me solidify that is how I want to structure my business too. Now I’m going onto LinkedIn to tell the world and see what happens.
Thanks, and congratulations with your business!
Lukumanu Iddrisu says
Am thrilled to read your story Jelle. Becoming a content marketer is not a joke however, your story can boost one’s morale in pursuing it to the fullest. Am a student and want to major in content marketing. Therefore, I read lots of blog recently just to improve myself in writing and in creating contents. Today happens to be my first time here and your story has really inspired me. Thanks for sharing and thanks to Copyblogger.
Copyblogger is an excellent place to stick around 🙂 Still one of the best sources out there.
I think that it takes guts to make that decision to specialize on a specific niche and target a small number of clients that you know well and service well. Well done.
There is always the temptation to try to be everything to everyone but I guess by doing that you can’t give the depth that gets you the more rewarding work.
This article's comments are closed.