What are you selling? What does your business do?
Deceptively simple questions that are not always easy to answer.
The ‘what do you do?’ question can become even more acute if you’re running your own business. Dealing with lots of different clients, and managing a stream of projects which are never identical, means it can be hard to sum up what you offer. Lack of clarity here has an impact. It makes it difficult for people to buy from you and refer you (because they don’t know what to refer you for).
There’s always an element of making it up as you go along – it’s one of the ‘joys’ of running your own business, right? But for your own sanity and security it’s good to make your best offer crystal clear and tell it loud and proud.
Here are some thoughts to help you get clear on one of the most important business questions of all.
Doesn’t every business know what it does?
We’re huge fans of Simon Sinek’s TED talk and famous Golden Circle, explaining the importance of understanding your ‘Why?’ and making your purpose the beating heart of your communications.
Sinek states that every business knows what it does and how it does it, but most don’t understand or articulate why they do it. It’s true that the ‘why’ is often overlooked (and it’s hugely important to get your purpose clear) but in our experience, lots of businesses struggle with communicating what it is they do as well.
“The what can be as tricky to capture as the why.”
In fact, the ‘what’ can be as tricky to capture as the ‘why.’ You can be perfectly clear on why you’re in business – because you want to change the world/help a specific group of people – but you can still be unclear on how you’ll deliver on that purpose, and what it is you’re actually selling. What is it that your customers will buy from you? What does your business do?
Our path to ‘what we do’ clarity
If you are feeling befuddled I want to reassure you that this is not an easy question to answer.
It’s taken me and Sonja a long time to get Valuable Content’s offer pared down and clear. Between us there’s so much we can do – content strategy, copywriting, content marketing, customer research, brand messaging, proposal writing, business development consultancy, workshops, newsletter writing, website advice, book coaching (I could go on!). If I’m honest a couple of years ago our website was a bit of a shopping list and that just wasn’t working.
Buying services is hard and we weren’t exactly making it easy for people to access our skills and knowledge.
After a lot of head scratching and experimentation, we’ve pared our offer down to just two main services:
- Pub School – a marketing programme for businesses with limited funds – ‘Learn and take action on your message & marketing in the best pub in Bristol. Expert guidance with the support of a group of like-minded business owners.’
- Message Lab – projects for bigger ones with a budget – ‘Strategic and creative help to shape your message and content marketing approach. Research-based projects to drive long-term, customer-focused change that strengthens your business.’
That’s it. I’m not saying it’s perfect yet – I know we can get it even clearer – but it’s working, and it’s a massive relief to us to have it clear.
So what was the journey to getting our offer clear?
A two-pronged approach to help you get clear on what you’re selling
a) Look inside – be self aware
Your best offer is the kind of work you enjoy most and helps best. It’s the most profitable, and the most fulfilling. Projects where your customers get the best from you, and you feel most valued. But if you’re not clear, that lack of clarity will really show.
The first part in getting clear on what you’re selling is to think about how you want to spend your days. If you’ve got the choice (and if it’s your business, you do have that choice) steer towards the work that makes your heart sing, and away from the services that leave you feeling stressed or undervalued. Time is finite – what matters to you most?
b) Look outside – ask your customers for their feedback
The second part of getting clear on what you’re selling involves listening hard to your customers, and the way they describe your value.
If customers are engaging your company over another offering similar services then people are making decisions based on much more than your product. Marketing your services effectively means understanding and capturing that unique value, and listening to how THEY describe what you do and what they buy from you; how they position you and what expertise they value most. It’s being able to articulate how your services make people feel, rather than just what your services do.
Do the thinking. Kick off a research project and talk to your customers, and you’ll uncover the true value of what you offer, and where your sweet spot really lies. What part of what you do gets your best customers most excited? Make this research and discovery process a priority in your business, and you’ll reap the rewards when it comes to clarity. Find the right words to express the value you uncover and it will become the golden thread that runs through everything your business says and does.
Design customer-focused services
The golden thread that you uncover might push you even further, as it has done for us at Valuable Content. For us, it wasn’t just a case of getting better at describing what we do, it was a case of designing a better service to deliver what our clients want from us. We’ve changed what we’re selling to fit the needs of our ideal customers, the life we want to lead and the impact we hope to make.
Design your products and services to deliver your unique value in the most efficient and profitable way. Offer services that clearly meet the needs of your ideal customers, and package them in a way that puts their challenges front and centre. Taking a customer-centric approach to the way you communicate your services stops you from offering those vague shopping lists of services that can be so hard to engage with us.
Sell using your customer’s own words
Using us as an example again.
- It means our Message Lab service page doesn’t say. “Content marketing, customer feedback, brand message articulation, content marketing training, website content design, content strategy, website copywriting,” even though most projects encompass all of those and more.
- Instead we say “Strategic and creative help to shape your message and content marketing approach. Research-based projects to drive long-term, customer-focused change that strengthens your business.” Those are words that our ideal clients have used to describe the value of what we deliver, and that’s what we want to sell more of.
At the start of a project, our ideal clients don’t necessarily know exactly what they’ll need to achieve their goal, so a long list of industry words isn’t helpful. They may not even be crystal clear on what the problem is they want to solve, but they do know where they want to get to. Our guidance through the process is part of what they want from us.
We love this from the Official Ted Talks book:
‘Language only works its magic to the extent that it is shared by speaker and listener. And there’s the clue to how we achieve the miracle of re-creating your idea in someone else’s brain. You can only use the tools that your audience has access to.’
Use your ideal customer’s words to paint a picture of their challenge, and show them how you help in language they’ll understand and like.
Experiment and iterate
From our experience, there’s no fast track to getting your service offering right first time. Do your thinking and research and then try it out. Iterate as you go. What feels good? What goes down well with customers? Keep the feedback loop open, and listen to what’s working and what isn’t. Experiment your way to service design success. And as in all business (and life) be open to change.
Examples of businesses that get it right
For an example of a services page that packages its offer in a customer-focused, purposeful way look at the new website from our fabulous accountants, FD Works. It’s easy to see exactly who they want to help, and what they’re offering. We love the customer focused language and illustrations on their website too, it makes them easy to refer. And easy referral is the real test of a site that’s got a good customer friendly sales message.
Another super easy person to recommend is Henneke Duistermaat. Henneke is a hugely talented copywriter and teacher, who could offer an enormous shopping list of services. Instead the Enchanting Marketing website offers only books and courses. In addition, the site is packed with personality, showing Henneke really understands her customer’s world. And an irresistible ‘free snackable course’ means you can try before you buy – a gateway product like this is a great idea. It’s a winning combination.
(And if you want to see how it looks to communicate what you’re selling in a customer-focused way, head over to Newfangled. Their About You page is a masterclass in using an empathetic picture of the client’s world to build trust before selling.)
So, over to you. What do you do?
You might also like:
- Five questions to help you communicate what you do
- On listening: the most underrated tool in your business tool box
- Make your offer crystal clear
- Businesses with purpose create the best content