Education is Marketing

Screenshot of Original How to Hire GuideScreenshot of Original "How to Hire Guide."

The wonderful thing about creating educational resources is that they develop trust while also building attention. This makes whatever effort you are investing in a channel much more effective.

In this chapter, we'll take a look at the considerations in developing an educational resource for your ideal client.

Educating Leads: Technical or Non-Technical?

There are two kinds of educational topics that you can provide: technical and non-technical. For example, as a programmer I could write a blog on a technical topic like how to use an API. Or, I could compose a non-technical speech on the total cost of ownership for custom application development for industrial manufacturers.

Remember that your efforts should be client focused. Because of this, you should have a strong bias towards non-technical topics.

That's not to say that creating educational content around technical topics is worthless. For example, several years ago I developed a screencast showing myself creating a basic guestbook application in 12 minutes using Joomla's MVC framework. It would've been helpful for another programmer but of no use to someone who wanted to hire me. However, that screencast still got me work because it developed trust by demonstrating to prospects that I knew my stuff.

The downside to technical topics is that they do very little for building the right kind of attention. I wasn't able to hook people in through a channel using that screencast. They found me through separate means and the screencast functioned very similarly to other trust devices like portfolios.

Choosing a Topic for Your Ideal Client

For the guide I created, I focused on a topic that I knew that many people struggled with: hiring a developer. As a developer, I was intimately familiar with the horror stories that my clients would come to me with about previous programmers they had hired. Additionally, I'd been approached many times for work and could tell that prospects experienced a lot of pain in hiring and were very cautious. I was confident that the topic would be enticing to people looking to hire someone. I also knew that I could speak with authority on the issue because I had actually hired other freelancers.

The question of hiring is something that will be valuable across many domains. However, there are lots of other topics that are as or more valuable to prospects. For example, responsive design was a hot topic for several years and a web designer who created a guide around planning a responsive design for medical equipment sales would have had lots of interest from CMO's in the medical equipment industry. What to create your educational resource around depends upon who your ideal client is and what they value. If you have lots of experience like I did, there are likely several topics which are obvious. If you don't, there are a few other ways that you can generate ideas: 

  • Talking to clients about the problems they face, the worries they have, and their goals on the web.
  • Researching topics in relevant communities to see what is being recommended or discussed. (LinkedIn forums, real life events, conference agendas, and etc. )
  • Reading relevant industry magazines and news for the same.
  • Tracking general trends and how they affect your ideal client (e.g the responsive design example above.)

Try to generate 10 ideas before choosing one. Often, the first idea you come up with is not the best, but you won't figure that out unless you force yourself to spend some time exploring alternatives.

What Format Should Your Educational Resource Be In?

My guide was written because I wanted to target keywords for SEO. However, the format is flexible so long as your client will give it their attention. Other options are:

  • A speech.
  • A video.
  • An audio series.
  • A PowerPoint presentation or online slides.
  • A book or e-book.
  • An email course.
  • A widget, extension, or mini-application  (Engineering as a channel and resource.  Things like GT Metrix or Website Grader. Trickier.)
  • A free consultation (Trickier because clients are suspicious of a sales pitch.)
  • A checklist with explanations available.

Try to work in a format that you are comfortable with and, most importantly, will likely to be consumed by your target client.

In your educational resource, cover everything that a potential prospect will find helpful, but don't attempt to sell anything. Any attempt at sales when you promised education is going to the subvert one of the key elements you need: their trust. If you are successful in getting their attention and trust you will set yourself apart from any competitors. If your guide is relevant to a problem the client has, you will be in a situation where the only question is whether they can afford you or not.  This is an aspect where my hiring guide falls down because it is too general, but even with that we rarely have real competition for our quotes if someone has read it.


Choosing a Restaurant in Hội An

Hoi An Bridge at SunsetHội An at sunset.

One of our stops in Vietnam was a small coastal town with French colonial architecture named Hội An.

When you go out to eat at the restaurants that overlook the water, you'll find many options that look almost identical: a courtyard with an entrance that has a podium with a menu and a waiter standing next to the menu and calling for you to come look at it. Every 30 feet, someone will try to reel you in to their restaurant. If you stop, they'll flip through the menu while telling you how great this dish and that dish are and then repeatedly try to get you to sit down.

It makes choosing a restaurant exhausting because you have to have a conversation and possibly reject someone every couple of minutes. It's the dining equivalent of speed dating.

Even though my wife and I planned on eating, we started to walk further away from the restaurants while simultaneously craning our necks to try and see what people were served. Eventually we spotted a restaurant that didn't have a waiter lurking near the podium and swooped in to inspect their menu. True to form, a waitress appeared out of nowhere. However, instead of giving us a schpiel, she just asked if we had any questions. We wanted drinks and so she went and got a drink menu and showed us the specialty drinks for the restaurant. My wife has some food allergies and she checked with the bartender to make sure the drink in question was okay. Then we thanked her and left to go walk to the end of the spit to see what other restaurants there were.

After another couple hundred feet of getting harangued to look at menus, we returned to the restaurant with the no-sales waitress and had drinks and dinner.

I've always remembered that experience and thought about the business implications. I don't think the moral is that you should never sell.  Rather, that the time to sell comes after the buyer finishes gathering information. If you can build someone's trust in that state of mind, selling a product or service becomes much easier when they are ready to pull out their wallet.

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