208 FS Hanging with Buyers

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* Editor’s Note: Ruby Remote Conf is over, but you can still purchase a ticket to get instant access to the talks! 02:22 - Hanging with Buyers05:27 - Identifying a Niche and Finding That Expensive Problem12:27 - Strategies for Getting Noticed17:16 - Types of Buyers21:54 - Word of Mouth; Talking to Others


REUVEN: Seeing people eat scorpion on a stick is kind of wild.

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CHUCK: Hey everybody and welcome to episode 208 of The Freelancers’ Show. This week on our panel we have Reuven Lerner.

REUVEN: Hi everyone.

CHUCK: Philip Morgan.

PHILIP: Hello.

CHUCK: I’m Charles Max Wood from DevChat.tv.

Quick shout out about two conferences I’m putting on to start out with. First one is Ruby Remote Conf. If you're into Ruby, go check it out. I got some great speakers lined up; really excited about that. This will probably come out the week it goes live, so you're going to want to get tickets right away.

The next conference after that is Newbies Remote Conf. If you're a new programmer or if you just want to get back to basic [inaudible] of things, then we’re lining up those talks right now and really excited about that. So go check that out: newbiesremoteconf.com. You can see the rest of them at allremoteconfs.com.

So the topic for today is – let me see if I can just read it because I thought it was interesting the way it was put. “How to break out of hanging out with your peers only and start hanging out with buyers.”

So Philip, you suggested this. Is there any more context to this?

PHILIP: Why yes, there is. [Chuckles] Here’s what I was thinking. I think one of the chronic diseases of freelancing, if I can put it that strongly, is we freelancers don’t know enough about our clients’ businesses, and therefore we don’t understand how our services could be more valuable if perhaps they were marketed differently or delivered differently. And so we keep doing the same thing because we lack this insight into our clients’ world.

Of course I think there's ways to get out of that. One of them would be just to spend more time with – when I say buyers, I've using it in the same sense Allan Weiss does – the decision makers, that’s your client; the people who decide that this thing that you're doing needs to be done and the people who have authority over the budget. It seems to me if you spent more time – when I say hanging out, I don’t think I mean playing video games with those people. I think I mean in some kind of professional context interacting with them. I just think it would be tremendously beneficial and I think it would be actually transformative for a lot of freelance businesses to do that.

So that’s what I was thinking. That’s the context, and I probably have more questions than answers on this topic, but that’s probably a good place for us to start.

CHUCK: I just want to add a little bit to that. I remember when I started this show and a few other shows, this was something that Eric Davis harped on quite a bit. I knew it was just that I had started podcast for my peers and not for my customers. And so when I was out there trying to find work, sometimes it was hard even though I had thousands of people listening to the various podcasts I've produced, and it was all because I was catering to the people that I identified with and not the people who I identified as people who would buy what I was selling. And it’s a really easy trap to fall into.

PHILIP: Right, yeah. We’re more comfortable with our peers. We perhaps have more in common with them, so it’s just more natural to gravitate towards hanging out with them.


REUVEN: [Inaudible] easier access to them. Where am I going to go? I’m going to go hang out with maybe other consultants or maybe other programmers who are like me or who are my friends; my friends are typically going to be around my age, so that means old [inaudible] programmers as opposed to younger types who might be purchasing my services.

And so I have to break out of – and also, even let’s say I go to a conference where there are people of different sorts, I’m going to gravitate toward the people I know and the people who are like me who are not necessarily the people who are going to be my best customers.

PHILIP: Right. So you're looking for a – Reuven, you're looking for a COBOL programmers club to hang out with? Is that alright? [Chuckles]

REUVEN: Please, please don’t insult me.

PHILIP: [Chuckles] Ok, sorry.

CHUCK: What's that you said?

REUVEN: [Chuckles]

CHUCK: Oh, the other kind of lisp. But yeah, it’s a tough problem to figure out. I think part of the answer to this though is something that we've talked at length about, and Philip has put himself out there as an expert, and that is just identifying your niche to begin with. So you niche down, you position yourself as an expert for that particular area.

I can tell you that as a Ruby on Rails freelancer, trying to identify who the buyers were and how to get in front of them, that was really hard because it was “well, it’s anybody who needs Rails work done. And so how do I identify and go hang out with my buyers? Well, I just go hang out with the bosses of all the people I’m talking to at the Rails conferences”. And that was –

PHILIP: Did you try that?

CHUCK: Yeah. It was somewhat less than effective.

PHILIP: [Chuckles] That was what's going to be my guess. From a positioning perspective – and I think you're right to bring that up. That’s very relevant here because a big part of finding a market position is just deciding who are you going to focus on. Is there an audience where you think your services might have more value? Is there a very relatively narrow market vertical where your services would be more valuable? Or maybe they wouldn’t even be more valuable, but you would have an easier time finding clients if you just knew that you were focused on training clients or people in a certain market vertical.

So that’s certainly part of it is just having that clarity about who you're trying to sell your services to. And I think I would agree Chuck that without that, you just don’t know where to start. It’s like looking for a needle on a haystack.

CHUCK: Yeah. And then to pile on top of that, we have what Jonathan always talks about which is once you’ve identified your niche, finding that expensive problem. And once you’ve done that, then it becomes a whole lot easier because now you have something to talk to them about. And so then you can figure out where they are and you can actually go and find opportunities to talk to them.

PHILIP: Right. I’ll just put this out there. I think you can create opportunities to talk to them, them being your buyers. You can host a webinar would be one just very simple example. And then if you have that clarity about who you're trying to sell to, there is nothing preventing you, other than your own hang-ups and insecurities, which I don’t mean to laugh at; I’m just laughing because I feel that myself. There's nothing preventing you from just sending out emails and saying “hey, would you like to come to this webinar? I’m talking about this topic. I think it’s of interest to you. I see from your Linkedin profile that you are blah blah blah. The webinar is at this date and time. Here's a link to sign up if you're interested”.

I think there's nothing preventing you from doing that from basically putting yourself in front of buyers, not in a casual social situation, but as an expert who has something to teach them.

CHUCK: Yup. And so I think – I have ideas and I have strategies. There are definite things you can do to get in front of the people that are going to buy whatever it is you're selling. And it’s very similar with books or courses or trainings or anything else, but the thing is unless you know what your message is for them, it’s really tough.

If you're talking to your peers, it’s completely different because it’s “oh well, I ran into this programming problem and so I solved it this way.” “Oh, well how did you thought about this other design pattern that could’ve solved your problem over here.” “Well no, I haven’t thought about that”. You have so much in common with these people that you can talk about anything.

But with your buyers, it’s a different kind of relationship and so you have to be able to know how to frame that conversation so that you can both get to the meat of what you offer and get to the meat of your message as well as figure how to strike up the conversation initially, because the only thing you have in common with them at that point is that you both understand the problem, hopefully, and that you're both human.

So you can talk to them about some of the human aspects, but it’s a little bit different once you start talking to – for example, I used the example as the dentist pretty often because my dad’s a dentist, and it’s different when I’m trying to talk to him about how to run a dental practice because I really just don’t have any idea. I could talk to him about internet marketing and I can talk to him about certain aspects of the business that overlap with my expertise, but it’s a conversation like if he’s talking about how to manage his dental assistant or how to take patient care and patient onboarding. I have vague ideas about that, but I don’t really understand how that works in the context of a dental office.

And so by going out of my way to understand at least one aspect of their business, and that being the aspect of their business that I can help them with, it makes it a whole lot easier to get into that because you can immediately start identifying “do they have the problem that I solve or don’t they, and how desperately do they need my help?”

PHILIP: I think the conversation happens second and at least for me the natural starting point when I’m talking to someone who fits that – they're in that buyer category – is to just ask a lot of questions. To me, that maps out how the conversation needs to go if I lead by asking a lot of questions.

“So what kind of stuff are you working on right now? And how’s business going? And what things do you wish were going better?” And just very general questions like that can start to open the door.

REUVEN: Interesting that you say like “how’s the business going” and so forth because that, I think, is super appropriate if you're dealing with someone at the business level which might actually be, again, an indication that you should look for those people. But if you're talking to people at a lower level like the engineers, or maybe [inaudible] person, I guess they're going to know something about the business, but in some ways I’d want to find out what are the problems they need solving. Where are they having the biggest obstacles?

And believe me, engineers will always be happy to talk your ear off about all the things that could be better or faster or improved, and they have to spend all day long configuring X and Y and Z just to get a new release out. And if you can identify those processes that are taking a while that you can help to improve, then that’s definitely a potential thing there.

And even if you don’t identify through them – I can’t remember who it was; I remember someone – maybe it was Eric – who once said that if you hear the same problem from three different clients or potential clients, then that’s probably a more generalized problem. It’s not something that’s just specific to those people and you can start to explicitly then say “I solve this problem”, and some fourth person, or a fifth, or a hundredth will then say “wow, I am so glad that someone is out there to fix that problem because I've had it too”.

CHUCK: Well, there’s also no reason why you can’t go back to the first three people and say “you know, I was really thinking about the problem you have, and so I did a little bit of looking, and I realized that I can solve your problem with X, Y and Z”. And so even though you didn’t come to them initially when they brought you the problem and say “oh I can solve that for you”, by coming back it shows “hey, I remember who you were. I remember what your concerns were and I have a solution for you”. In other words “I was thinking about you and you matter”. And for a lot of people, that's enough.

One other thing that I've seen come out of some of these conversations, and I’ll go into some of the strategies that I have in my head for getting noticed here in a minute, but one other thing is I’ll wind up talking to people. I go to some seminars or some conferences – I said seminars; that’s my dad’s word. Anyway, I go to some conferences where the people there aren’t programmers. They're not people who do what I do.

And as I talk to them, what usually happens is the conversation will go something like this: “hey, what's your name?” and then it’s “ok well, what's your name?” And then the next thing is “what do you do?” And so if I’m asking them that question, then they’ll spend a few minutes explaining who they are and what they work – who they work for and what they do, and then they’ll turn it around to me.

And so if I already have that answer to that problem, then immediately I could say “well, I solve this problem for this kind of person”. And if they have indicated at all that they're within a target market that I solve a problem for, then I can immediately tailor to that. And then you can start talking about the finer points of what their issue is because you have this common thing to talk about. But just by asking them who they are and what they do, and then getting them to reciprocate, a lot of times is enough to get the ball rolling.

REUVEN: When I spoke with a training company a few years ago, the one that I dealt with in Israel for a few years, they had me do a screen test to see if I could actually teach. And the idea was give them about a 10-minute segment of something that I could teach.

And so I started and there was one person sitting in the audience in the room; not the person who was checking me. And so I did something and she was like “well, it was ok”. I said “well, what could I do better?” and she said “you know, whenever you start a course, you should go around the room and ask for people’s names”. I was like “but it was just you”, and she said “no no, you we’re supposed to pretend it was a full class”.

And that stuck with me and so ever since when I started class, I go around the room and [inaudible] a little bit of time, and I ask people what are their names – I can hopefully try to remember – but I also ask why are they there and what's their previous experience.

And that has helped me to do two things. First of all, get them to hear what I say and make it more specific to their needs. But the second thing is I then get a sense of who is coming to these classes and can I come up with something new that would be appropriate for them. It’s like subtle sneaky market research. And I've come up with at least two classes based on people’s answers to that. And I wouldn’t necessarily otherwise have much opportunity to find out what people are there for and what they're doing, but it really opens the conversation and allows me to say things that are more appropriate and are going to be more useful for them.

CHUCK: It’s so interesting that you – we’re talking around the same thing. I remember when we were talking with Brennan about proposals and all the questions that he asks in order to get that information, and it feels like this is sort of a baby version of that where you're not getting very specific or very deep, but at the same time you are exploring to the extent that you can in a 5 or 10-minute conversation – “can I help you and how can I help you?” and they're exploring “do you understand my problem and do you have a solution to it?” And then you can go into more depth when you are actually onboarding them.

REUVEN: That’s right.

PHILIP: Part of it just seems to be the art of being curious about other people. And the fact that we’re talking about that makes me wonder maybe it really is a sort of skill that we can all get better at. I know that from personal experience and other sources that everybody loves talking about themselves and I use that to my advantage because I don’t love talking about myself. I always try to get other people talking about themselves when I’m talking to them.

But maybe that doesn’t come naturally; maybe that’s actually a habit that listeners can develop a bit more to – I just think it leads opportunities when you ask questions, but maybe that’s not very common. I don’t know. What do you guys think?

CHUCK: I think it does. The other thing is as I was always trying to say before, I think people reciprocate. So if you show interest in them, then they’ll show interest in you.


REUVEN: Yeah. I just always find it interesting to – I use a lot of stories; I love to tell stories and [inaudible] stories to my teaching and I love hearing people describe what they're doing because it’ll either give me more insights or often give me a good story I can use later on because it gave me some insight.

And it’s always just – when I started with all my training work, I was convinced that people in my courses were going to be like me where they did a lot of web development. And I could not have been more wrong. Almost none of them do web development. And so it’s been fascinating for me to hear how people use these tools and languages that I've been using for years in dramatically different ways, encounter different problems, and have different things they want to optimize for.

CHUCK: Yup, absolutely. So it seems like though there are couple of different types of buyers. I want to move into this direction a little bit. There are people who own businesses and need help with some aspect of the business. There are larger businesses where you're working with a department within the business, and we've talked about that some with your training, Reuven. And then there are the consumers where you're selling some sort of digital product or some kind of personalized training that allows them to level up like coaching or something like that or like I said, a digital product.

Does it change much when you're pitching these different products to people or when you're trying to identify buyers if they're different types of people?

PHILIP: Well, I think there's always this question of access. And I think in general it’s easier to get access to individuals. If you're selling some kind of basically a B to C type of service or product, I think it tends to be easier to get access to individuals. The higher-up someone is in the organization, they start to become surrounded by gatekeepers and other barriers to access, and that’s worth thinking about is how can you get access.

CHUCK: Yeah. So how do you get access? I have a few ideas on this, but I don’t want to take over the conversation. Reuven seemed like, before the call, he had a couple of light bulbs going on for him. What ideas do you have Reuven?

REUVEN: First of all, a lot of my contacts are already in these companies. So when I’m there, I really do try to talk to them and sometimes they’ll come to me in the course and sometimes it’ll be when I’m hanging out with them or when I’m having lunch with them. Lunch is actually a great opportunity to chat with people and hear what they're up to. And again, everyone loves to gripe about what the issues are, what the problems are.

And [inaudible] I guess both when you're working at a company and you want to learn more about how you can service them more and at conferences, meetings, meet-ups, whatever, ask people what's going on and where are their frustrations. And almost certainly from those conversations, if they are in your field, you can identify something.

Now they might not be the people – as you guys were saying to some degree, they might not be the decision-makers. They might not be the ones who will either approve the budget or call you in, but I’m sure – I know this from experience – I had these people on a course I gave a year or so ago or two years ago, and they come to me and said “you obviously know a lot about Ruby. We have a Ruby project. Can you help us with it?” I said sure.

So they called their boss and said “look, there's this guy here we’re sure who can – he can help us. Let’s meet with him”. And because it came from within the organization, it meant they gave justification for the CEO to meet with me, and because I met with them already right before that meeting, I knew about their problems in their company. So it meant that in that first meeting, we already had a connection and understanding, and that led to much much better things.

So you have to get out there, but you also have to talk to people I think not just the higher-ups, but the people who are dealing day to day with issues because they can help you to identify those expensive problems. You might need to identify it because they won’t necessarily see it, but if you talk to a few people from the same company also, you can get a view of “oh, they're having such and such issue across the board”.

CHUCK: Yeah. I really like the idea of going internally too. So even if you're not in contact with the buyer per se, they may know how to get in contact with the buyer inside of their company and put you in touch, and then you get the referral and you can make it happen that way.

REUVEN: Right.

PHILIP: I think we should add to that. Sometimes just asking is all it takes, and then sometimes you have to frame it in how you're going to create value. No one wants to refer you to their boss and the boss is like “why did you refer that idiot to me? They just wasted 33 minutes of my time with a sales pitch”.

So I think having some idea of how you could create value before you go in and try to meet a buyer is important to think through. Not that you were saying anything to the contrary, Chuck; just to add to what you were saying. It’s kind of having a plan for “what happens if I ask for this referral? What's next?” I think that’s important.

CHUCK: I think that is important. And you can, depending on the type of relationship the person you're getting the referral from has with the person you're getting referred to, you can in a lot of cases actually work it out so that you get more information. “They tend to like to work this way or the people they’ve hired are like this or the products that they’ve bought serve us in this way or we get access in this other way”, and that way you can put it into some kind of perspective that looks like something else that they're already familiar with. And I like that; I like the idea of formulating a plan of attack.

One other idea that came to my head, and this also comes out of stuff that I think Jonathan said way back in the day, was when you choose your market, choose a market that – I think it was him that said it, but basically a market that already has a conference, because if they have a conference, then there are enough people in that market for you to serve and plenty of room for other people to come in. And by going to those markets, a lot of times, or going to those conferences or sponsoring the conferences and getting a booth and things like that, it also puts you into a position where you can actually talk to a lot of people who are in your market.

The other thing is those people talk amongst themselves, so again, if you have that idea of how you can serve that market, how you can solve their problems, then what may happen is somebody who’s not interested in the conference sponsors may wind up talking to somebody else who actually came by your booth and talked to you, hear the description of the problem you solved, and then basically have their friend or person say “hey look, go talk to the guy over at that booth because he actually gets it and can help you with that”.

PHILIP: That is a perfect example of what is known as word-of-mouth. Word-of-mouth I think is commonly perceived as like people running through the streets going “oh my god! You have to meet this Chuck guy!”


CHUCK: Just so you know – oh sorry.

PHILIP: And not that it happens in your hometown, Chuck, but –

CHUCK: Oh, all the time. I can’t even go into a Walmart. I’m just kidding.


PHILIP: But you’ve really portrayed, I think, how it actually works, which is that people who have a reason to refer you because they're in the same line of business or they have some shared interest, they do refer you, and that’s really how word-of-mouth works. And that’s why as a generalist – I’m getting up on the narrow market focus podium here, but as a generalist, you really have a hard time getting word-of-mouth going because word-of-mouth does not tend to just spread like wildfire through the streets, and in effect, everybody who could potentially need a website. But if you're focused on a market, you show up at a conference and start having conversations, not that you have to be at the conference, but that’s the environment in which word-of-mouth spreads much more effectively. So I just wanted to tag on and make that observation.

CHUCK: Well, and this is something also that I've seen just going to different groups. I’ll just give you an example. I’m a member of Toastmasters and the local Toastmasters Club. Occasionally we have new people join and they start talking about why they want to learn to speak. And when they're talking about speaking at conferences, about half of the club can help them with that.

But occasionally we get somebody who’s like “well, I really want to get better at speaking so that I can get on to YouTube, or I get to a podcast”, and then they send them to me. And the things that’s really funny about that is that when they get sent to me, then I get to help them learn about that and do that and figure that stuff out, and I've kind of become the podcast guy for that club.

And what's really interesting is that it’s not hard to go to some of these other meet-ups or these other organizations, do presentations,  get in touch with people, stay in touch with people and become the problem solver for this thing that people run into, and then find out that “oh my goodness, this person can actually take care of it”, and then you start getting referrals out of those groups even though you're showing up to the accountants’ group and you're a programmer. The fact that you're there and easily accessible can get you business.

And I've seen that in other – like Chamber of Commerce or things like that where you have a business problem that you can solve that is a little bit more generalized or maybe is focused on a particular industry, but is easily extended to others, you'll start getting those referrals. “Oh that guy’s a web developer” or “that gal is a photographer” or whatever, and it immediately becomes a way for people to come up to you and say “you know, I've really been thinking. I need a professional headshot. What are the best ways to do that? I’m not an expert in lighting or cameras or anything like that” and you can start answering questions for these people.

PHILIP: Yeah, right. I have to ask; is there ever actually any toasting that happens at Toastmasters?

CHUCK: There is a project. The way that it works is you have booklets that have projects in them, and one of the projects is actually a toast, but generally, no.

PHILIP: Ok, just curious. [Chuckles]

REUVEN: When we’re talking about talking to customers, I’m reminded of Rob Walling from Startups For the Rest of Us and Drip. So I remember I was listening to Startups For the Rest of Us during the time that he was [inaudible] Drip together, and he spent weeks, months talking on the podcast about how “well, I met with more clients and I talked to them about what we want to do and I got some more feedback from them”.

And I thought to myself “wow, he is taking this way too seriously, just launch something. Get some reactions from people. Why wait so long?” And first of all, I’m a very satisfied Drip customer, but I’m convinced that part of my satisfaction, a large part of my satisfaction, is because he didn’t just run and [inaudible] it right away, but he spent a lot of time with the people who would be using the product and ask them what they wanted, and even after it came out, solicit a lot of feedback.

And you can see the difference between a product that was designed by the engineers and a product that was designed by the engineers after talking to the people who would actually use and pay for it. And so while that’s a product or a SaaS product, I don’t think consulting is that different or any freelance work is that different. And so the more you can get out and talk to people and find out what their problems are and how they want to solve them – because you might have the solution that’s fantastic, but will never fly given their business model, in which case it’s not really fantastic after all.

PHILIP: Yeah. I think the similarities are striking because it’s very tempting as a practitioner of any skill to look at yourself and try to do the self-examination that you have to do to begin marketing yourself and come up with these ideas about your value proposition and your differentiator that are completely irrelevant to your clients. And it’s just like you're looking at the wrong stuff and I think that happens a ton in the product world where you get excited about some cool feature that doesn’t really add that much value. So I think the similarities are actually – there's a lot of similarities between developing an appealing product and developing an appealing service.

CHUCK: Yeah. I think honestly, getting noticed is the toughest thing, but if you can get in front of these people by going to the events they're at or things like that, all of these other stuff that we’re talking about can come out of working on those things.

PHILIP: Chuck, do you have any tips for, let’s say, introverts going to a conference and making the best use of that. Maybe they're not inclined to get out there and just say hi to every person that crosses their path. Can you be more strategic about it or are there ways to meet the right people?

CHUCK: It’s interesting I keep hearing the definition of an introvert to somebody who as they talk to people, it takes energy from them as opposed to giving energy to them. And I’m definitely one of those people where it takes energy from you in order to talk to people. It takes less energy over something like Skype with the two of you because I know you well and this is a routine thing, but talking to people face to face, especially if there are a lot of other people in the room, it just wears me out going to the conferences. That said, I go out and I really enjoy talking to people, but then I have to go and actually go crash in my room and relax.

And so I think for that kind of an introvert where you can go out, you can turn it on, you do enjoy talking to people; it just saps your energy after a while, then don’t be afraid to take a break. And then just do it as much as you are comfortable with. As far as people who are shy, I think that’s really the area that some people struggle with where just talking to a stranger gives them some kind of anxiety or makes them so uncomfortable that it makes it very difficult, there are a couple of hacks that I've seen work.

One is if you see a group of people standing around and talking, a lot of times you can just walk up and listen without actually breaking into the conversation. And then once you're comfortable and you feel like you do have something to share or somebody asks you what you think, then at that point you're invited in and so you're not – you can overcome some of that shyness that way.

Another idea is make a friend who’s an extrovert and then follow them around and let them introduce you. And another hack that I've seen some people do is actually [inaudible]. So what they do is they go to the conference and they're thinking “ok, I need to meet 10 people today”, and so they just keep track. If it gets past lunch and they’ve only done 3, then they get down and they get busy.

And finally, the other hack that I've seen is that if you have to warm yourself up to this or build up to it, talking to the people who are actually exhibiting is a great way to do that because they are there and they're interested in talking to you that’s why they're there. And so you can go over and have an easy conversation that’s easy to start because they already have something to talk to you about, and then you can turn around and go talk to somebody who you don’t know.

All of those work out pretty well. If you go to the small meetings or meet-ups where it’s a group of people who all have something in common, a lot of times that’s pretty easy. So just in the sense of – at Podcast Movement I went to a meet-up for a friend of mine, Cliff Ravenscraft. So we all had something in common there because we all knew Cliff. I've been to other conferences where they have little get-togethers of 10, 20 people, and everybody’s interested in talking about how to help new programmers or how to do this, that or the other. And so if it’s an area of interest for you or an area where you feel like you can make a contribution, then you can show up and you automatically have that much more in common with those folks.

But if you're going to a conference, you already have something in common with those people, and that’s the interest in whatever the conference is about, and so you can immediately start talking to them about that. And even if you're new to it, you can tell people you're new and in a lot of cases, you'll make a friend who can actually take you around and help you find other people to talk to.

REUVEN: I remember talking years ago with a friend of mine who [inaudible] with me undergrad; he’s a few years older than me. And then he went on to law school. And after he graduated from law school, he said “you know, it’s kind of funny, everyone says that lawyers are pretty extroverted – we’re not so stereotyped at least – and that programmers are introverted”. It’s like why is that? And he said they both work at offices, they both do research, they're both doing a lot of work on their own, and he said part of it is that lawyers are always meeting new people. And they're used to meeting new people and it’s just part of what they have to do, whereas programmers typically can be in the same company as long as they work there and you're only interacting with your work group.

And I think it’s an important and useful, I would say even crucial skill to a freelancer to act more like a lawyer [inaudible] stereotypes analogy. Go out there and learn to meet new people and learn to introduce yourself and listen and have conversations with them, not only because you'll learn a lot with those people, but also because it will really help your business.


REUVEN: I like the game implication idea of like “I won’t have lunch until I've met 10 new people”. [Inaudible]


CHUCK: It puts you in that frame of mind where it’s “ok, I've got to do this”. So then instead of focusing on “how do I strike up a conversation with this person who seems important?”, it’s “how do I get 6 more people? Oh I’m going to talk to that guy” and you don’t really think about the part of it that makes you uncomfortable.

REUVEN: I just want to say also some of those I've spoken at conferences – I remember being very nervous going up to people who spoke at conferences and I’m thinking “oh my god, they don’t want to talk to me”. And the opposite is so completely true. When you speak in a conference, you just get the greatest rush ever from people coming up to you after your talk and wanting to speak with you, especially younger less-experienced people and by no means should you say “oh boy, I don’t want to be embarrassed”. They're there, they want to talk to you.

I think it was Chuck’s point and it’s a very good one, they're a great opportunity, maybe not for advancing your business although you never know, and remember probably when you go speak to a conference speaker, there will be other people speaking to them too, and then you can get to know them because those are going to be the most on your [inaudible] people, I would like to think, at least in theory. And now you can go to lunch.

CHUCK: Yeah. The other thing that comes to mind with that is that let’s say – because we’re talking about speaking at a conference for your buyers, not for your peers. So if you're a programmer, we’re talking about speaking at the lawyers’ conference or the accountants’ conference or the dentists’ conference and not your own. But the thing that’s interesting about that is that in a lot of cases, if you present the right kind of crossover, your talk is going to be extremely valuable to those people because you're bringing in a perspective on something that they don’t understand that can pay off for them.

If you understand web development and you understand SEO or you understand responsive design which is how you make the website – I’m doing this for non-technical people, but it’s how you make the website look good on a big screen and a small screen with the same code – if you understand these particular things and you can talk to them about the benefits, you get up there and you say “59% of people browse the web on their phone, and 24% of websites are the websites that look good on a phone. Is your website one of them?” Pull out your phone, check it out, and then you start talking to them and you start explaining to them how and why to get this done, then there are huge benefits because the implications to them are on their bottom line, and the implications to them for you is that you are somebody who understands how to solve this problem. And so you can immediately start answering questions and being that expert in that area even though you're not an expert in plumbing, but you're an expert in how to make websites look great for people who are looking up plumbers on their phones. And that’s an area that they need help in.

And so those edges and cross-overs are areas that you can really really shine in. And you can also do something similar with things like lightning talks, which are I don’t know that all conferences do these; a lot of the programming conferences do, where essentially they open up a time period for people to get up and give a 5-minute talk. And so those people get up and they talk about whatever it is that they're working on. And if you can do the same thing there – “hey look, here's how you get this to work for you. Here's how you get this other thing to work for you. Here's how you do SEO. Here's how you get more traffic to your website” – all of those things can pay off.

And the other thing is we’re talking about how to get to hang out with your buyers, not necessarily how to get them to buy. And I think that’s really the great first step is you become that resource for them, you build those relationships, and then the next time there's an event or something else where they need somebody to come in and share their expertise, then they go to you. And so then you can meet more of these people, you can invite them out to lunch, you can hold meet-ups, you can hold webinars, and you can start to build the rest of that funnel out for them. But in the meantime, just by making those connections, you are getting yourself to the point where you can start spending more time and hanging out with your buyers instead of your peers.

PHILIP: Yeah. I like that. I think it’s important to remember that demonstrating expertise is a great way to build trust, but it’s not the only way. And just showing up and being there in front of people and being a human being also does a lot to build trust because then you're a known quantity rather than an unknown quantity.

CHUCK: Well, the other thing is that – I’m going to use an example of recruiters in programming. I get calls probably every week from recruiters, a couple of calls every week from recruiters. “Are you looking for a job? DO you know anybody who’s looking for a job?” And my answer is always “no, I’m not looking for a job. And I don’t know who you are, so I’m not going to refer any of my friends to you”.

And it’d be a different story altogether because they're like “well, how do I find people?” and I’m like “well, go to the users’ group. Buy the pizza. Don’t be pushy. Go make some friends and eventually you're going to make friends with the right people who have the right connections who can get you in touch with people who are looking for jobs. But you have to be somebody that they're comfortable sending their friends to or comfortable coming to you asking for that kind of job advice. In other words, it’s not just the quick ‘oh, are you looking for a job? Let me help’; it’s actually building out relationship and figuring it out.

And then if you don’t get what they're talking about every month at the users’ groups, but you go every month and you're there as a resource to help more and more people figure out how to do the job search, eventually people are going to start patronizing your business and spending their time having you help them find the job that they're looking for, and then you can make the commission on getting them into those companies. But it’s not something that works overnight, and it’s not something that you can just say ‘look, I can do this for you’ and you're going to have people flock to you. It really does come down to those relationships”. And of course none of the recruiters ever ever take my advice.

REUVEN: [Chuckles]

PHILIP: That quote is to [inaudible].

CHUCK: I know, right? But in the long term, those relationships are the ones that are going to pay off.

PHILIP: Absolutely.

CHUCK: Especially since small community like the one here in Utah for example – I don’t know how small you would categorize a small because we have 4 meet-ups within an hour and a half of me for Ruby alone every month, and usually the turnout is somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-50 at each one. So do the math. Some of them are the same people, some of them aren’t.

But anyway, the thing that’s really interesting is that all of those users’ group organizers – and this is something I tell people who are looking for jobs do too is to get to know those folks – all of those folks are people who are well connected in the community. They are going out and talking to companies to try and find sponsorships to give stuff away or to buy the pizza, to have an extra venue in case the one that they usually goes to falls through or things like that.

And so they're really really well connected, and they know all the people who are coming out to the users group, or at least most of them. And so if somebody’s looking for a job, they probably know it. And if a nearby company is hiring, they probably know it. And since that’s the job market for these recruiters, you would think that they’d want to make friends with these users’ group organizers and make it worth their while. “I’ll give you a thousand dollars for every referral” and then you convince them that you're not a douchebag, and so then they're totally willing to send their friends to you, they get a kickback on top of that and their friend gets a job. It’s a win win win.

But nobody ever goes to the extent of building out relationship so that it actually works out. And those are the kinds of relationships that you really need for those long-term referral sales. And in the small community like this, there are just a handful of people that are really that well connected and can really do that kind of help for you. And so even though you're not necessarily doing recruiting in accounting or dentistry, you're solving a problem.

And so if you can demonstrate to somebody who’s an influencer in a small market that you can solve this problem, for probably half of the people at the users’ group, they're going to give you an opportunity to present, they're going to give you opportunities to meet people, they're going to help you build relationships, they're going to give you referrals, and you're going to be able to make sales. And you can keep going back and spending time hanging out with your buyers, which is what the whole premise of this episode is, and you can really start to make this work.

The other thing is back to the idea of Drip. Even if you aren’t selling right away, you're going to get a much much better idea of what people are struggling with because that’s what they're going to talk about when they all get together.

PHILIP: I think you touched on a larger issue there Chuck. It comes up in several contexts; this idea that – even as a freelancer, you're not just creating your time for money or regardless of whether you're billing hourly; I’m not really talking about that. But just the idea of that you have to invest in your business, and I think you have to invest in marketing and you have to invest in relationships, ultimately that’s the business we’re in as a relationship – our business as defined by the relationships you have.

And so what you're talking about really strikes me as a very important form of investment. It does not pay immediate dividends, but the long-term payback is substantial.

CHUCK: Yup, absolutely. The other thing that I think is interesting is that when I got into software I thought that having a software career was all about code. And it kind of is, but the thing that really defines people’s careers in programming and pretty much anything else is the relationships. And the relationships that you have with other people and the way that you're able to both profit from them – and I’m not just talking money profit, but personally profit from them – as well as the ways that you can contribute to those other people, those are really where these relationships and other things pay off.

And the relationships with your co-workers really impact the way that your job goes and the way that you're able to do good work and collaborate and write great software, and this extends to pretty much every other job that I've had, all the way back from when – my first job, I worked in a laundromat. I was 15; I did other people’s laundry, but the relationship I had with the customers and my boss. And then I went and worked in a grocery store as a bagger and the relationship that I had with the cashiers and the front-desk people and the people who stacked the shelves and the store manager – all of that. It wasn’t about groceries; it was about these relationships and how we dealt with each other.

And as you move up into software and you move up into photography and move up into some of these other areas, it’s the relationships that you have with the people who impact what you're doing that really is going to define what you're able to do and how much impact you're going to have on other people. And that kind of impact, some of it is what people are paying you for. So it’s all about relationships. I think anybody who thinks that their business or job is not about relationship is missing a major major component of what they're about.

REUVEN: Absolutely.

PHILIP: It took me a long time to realize that though. I actively denied it. It was my thinking several years ago was it’s really it’s about my skill or my approach to the work, and I agree that I was really missing, I think, the foundation of a service as a business which is your ability to deliver value in the context of a relationship. So without those relationships, it really interferes with your ability to find new work and to create the kind of results you want.

It takes trust. Clients have to trust you. I think for most freelancers to be able to do their best work requires that their client trust them and give them some freedom and some latitude to get the job done. That doesn’t really happen without a strong relationship, I don’t think.

CHUCK: Yup, I agree. And I think also just the ability to go and hang out with people who are your customers, again, that’s a great opportunity to build that trust. It’s also a great opportunity to take advantage of some of the trust that people are giving you and justify that trust that they have in you by serving the people that they serve.

REUVEN: By the way, one more thing; I don’t think we've mentioned a way to meet your customers and talk with them is webinars. We've all done it one way or another, I think, and I found it has been first of all extremely gratifying that I announce a webinar and all these people who I've never heard of before come and then participate and ask questions, but the questions they ask and the things they say – assuming you can get them to interact, which is not always the case, but often is – these are the people who are potentially going to buy from you and recommend you come back to be your groupies, if you're fortunate to have that.

And that’s a great resource to take advantage of, and I mean take advantage of it in the positive way where you're going to – you can ask them questions, get answers, and the serve them and to everyone’s mutual benefit. And the great thing about a webinar – multiple great things – you can do it from home and it’s then recorded, so other people can come and react and contact you as well.

CHUCK: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s also interesting that the webinars, I in some ways correlate them to a podcast or blog post. Now, they're not live like webinars, but at the same time, they're publicly available content that people can read. Forums and email lists are another form of this to a certain degree where you don’t actually have to go out and interact with people in person. You can put great content out there, you can make it available, you can have conversations in the comments or on the forums, and again it gets back to this “ok, I’m finding new ways to serve these people by giving them the answers to their problems that they have”.

But I really like the webinars because you do get that live interaction. And for people who are introverts, as Philip asked earlier, I think this is a great way to go because in a lot of cases, all you're looking at is a chatroom or something like that as far as interaction goes. So if that face-to-face makes you nervous, this isn't face-to-face. It’s they're seeing you, but you're not seeing them, and so you can abstract away the parts of it that make you nervous and then deliver great content anyway.

Any other aspects of this that we want to dive into before we get to picks?

PHILIP: I guess the last thing that occurs to me as a wrap-up thought is years ago I was intimidated by the idea of dealing with the person that the company who could sign the check or who could make the decision as seemed – it seemed like who’s I to demand any of their time to interrupt them etcetera. And that was rooted in a lack of belief in my own value and the value of what I could do. So that of course, that’s where it all starts is that sense that you can create value, that you have something of value.

But I guess I would say maybe for people who see that as a barrier to spending more time with their buyers, that’s something that can change. You can either find more ways to create more value. And even if you feel like what you do right now isn't all that valuable, if you feel like a code monkey or sort of a low low level provider of some commodity service, I think that you can start by just being curious about what would create more value, and that [inaudible] itself is reason to engage with your buyers and be curious about their world and what keeps them up at night and what's the risk to their business, and that may be enough to change your business.

So I just want to say that to folks who are maybe in that situation of not really feeling confident about approaching buyers. It’s not that you have to totally impress them with your credentials or blow them away. Again, I just think starting with curiosity about – genuine curiosity about their world is maybe enough of a starting point.

CHUCK: Yeah, I totally agree. And then just get out there and do it.

REUVEN: And it’s like anything else, it will take time. It takes practice. You will make mistakes at first, and over time you'll feel more comfortable with it and you'll understand who to talk to and how to talk to them.

CHUCK: Yup. Alright, well let’s go ahead and get to some picks. Reuven, you want to start us with picks?

REUVEN: Yeah. So some listeners may remember from a few years ago the fake Steve Jobs blog. And it was incredibly funny, in part because it was such a great send-up and satire of the high tech industry. The guy who wrote the fake Steve Jobs blog, this guy named Dan Lyons, found himself without a job a few years ago. He had been a technical editor of Newsweek and he’d been a few other things. And so he joined Hubspot, a free well-known start-up – I guess they're not a start-up anymore; they're public and they're 10 years old. He joined them on their marketing team. And almost from the first day, he hated it; absolutely positively hated it. And he stuck around there for I think it was 20 months, and then quit and wrote a book.

The book is called Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up World, and it is – the Start-up Bubble; sorry – and it is so incredibly funny and so incredibly depressing at the same time. Every page, anyone who has ever worked with start-ups will say “oh yeah, uh huh, uh huh”, and you just can’t believe the next thing you see. And I’m sure that some of it is tinged with his lack of happiness at Hubspot, but so much of it has nothing to do with that. I definitely recommend to anyone in the tech industry, who had to deal with star-ups at all, read it. You will laugh, you will cry, you will avoid some of these people’s clients. So that’s my pick for this week.

CHUCK: Alright. Philip, what are your picks?

PHILIP: I've got two picks, but I want to add that I've been listening to Disrupted on audio book, and it really is funny. I guess I have a slightly different take on it, which is it just makes me so grateful that I don’t have to [inaudible] into the job, that I'm building something that freeze me from having to do that because as I cross the threshold over age 40, I start to think “wow, it’s just” – at least in the tech industry, it’s a little bit rough as you get older. And so I sympathize with Dan Lyons; just incredulity at the people that he has to work with at the start-up. I feel his pain. [Chuckles]

Anyway, two picks. One is a page builder for WordPress called Beaver Builder. And I may earn the wrath of die-hard WordPress folks here, but I found Beaver Builder to be such a useful tool. I tried a couple of different page builders and I think it’s one of the more flexible well-designed ones that I've seen and it really does a lot to bridge that gulf between a generic theme and a custom hand-built theme. It really just I think opens up a lot of possibilities that at least for me in the kind of projects that I work on, which are usually simple lead gen sites, it really freezes up and lets me kind of DIY a lot of stuff. So that’s a pick, is Beaver Builder.

And the other pick is one I think I've picked before, but I’ll just pick it again because I think it’s relevant to our conversation this week – a book called Selling to Big Companies by Jill Konrath. What I love about this book is that it gives you a way of thinking about sales that’s very different than I think what a lot of us perceive it as. And to me, sales is just providing small increments of value and checking for fit and seeing what the next step is. And what I love about this book is that it really helps you start thinking in terms of how you can use sales conversations to provide value to your perspective clients and turn things around so you're not interrupting them, but you're actually giving them something they desperately need, and I think that just sets the tone for a good relationship with those clients. And I think also this book will give folks some idea about how they might get access to buyers that they think they don’t have access to. And so that’s my second pick: Selling to Big Companies by Jill Konrath.

CHUCK: Awesome. I’ve got a couple of picks here. The first pick that I’m going to put out there is a book series that I just listened to in Audible; it’s called The Belgariad. It’s a book series I read quite a while ago. It’s a fantasy series; just fun characters, fun storyline, really really enjoyed it. I've been pretty tired and burned out lately, and it was kind of my escape for the last week when I didn’t really want to think about stuff. So I’m going to pick that.

The other pick I have is a book called Fully Alive by Ken Davis. I really really enjoyed that book. It’s about 5 hours long on Audible. I don’t know how many pages this one is because I listen to it on Audible. Just to put some perspective on it, I usually don’t repeat books on Audible unless it’s been quite a long time, but I’m probably going to listen to this one again. I listened to it last week and I’ll be listening to it again this week just because there was so much there that really inspired me to get my life to the place that I want it to be.

The book is about living fully alive is the premise, so what are you doing in your physical, in your mental, your business, your spiritual, whatever areas and how you can live fully alive in all of those different areas and how they all contribute to making up the whole of your life and making that something that is what you want it to be. So anyway, super great book. It’s called Fully Alive by Ken Davis.

And that’s all I got. I’m also going to remind people, Ruby Remote Conf probably coming out right around when this episode does, so definitely go check it out. And then Newbie Remote Conf. I’m also doing Robots Remote Conf in August, so if you want to submit a talk to that or come and see what people are doing with robotics and IoT, then definitely check that out as well.

And with that, I guess we’ll wrap up. Thank you both for coming and we’ll catch you all next week.

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