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 …
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.