When I started my consulting business eight years ago, I was -- shall we say -- less picky about the assignments I accepted. Almost anything that involved a paycheck and the ability to add another entry to my client list was a thrill. But over time, as my client base grew and I became more confident in my ability to make a living, I wanted to “move upmarket,” or to work on higher-level projects with a better bottom line. This wasn't exactly an easy transition.
Once you’ve developed a particular brand, it can be devilishly hard to change it. For instance, if you’ve become known for copywriting but want to pivot to message development, you may be stymied.
So how can you “reinvent your brand” in the eyes of current clients -- and position yourself so that new clients are drawn to you for the kinds of higher-paid projects you want?
Here are a few pointers:
Examine your touch points. It’s a basic step but often overlooked. Do all your materials -- website text, e-newsletters and bios on social media sites -- reflect the brand you’d now like to have? Double-check everything. Also, don’t renew advertisements without reviewing the wording, and if you’re giving a speech, print out a new bio for your introduction, just in case they pulled something old off the web.
Reach out to your contacts. As you’re launching your new brand, don’t forget to proactively reach out by phoning or emailing your contacts – individually -- to let them know about your new direction and, where appropriate, ask for their help, advice or business. (Blast emails are a start but too often go unread.)
Leverage “letters of introduction.” As eminent psychologist Robert Cialdini told me when I interviewed him for my book Reinventing You, there’s a strange quirk in our culture: You can get away with writing self-promotional things that you simply can’t say in person.
For example, if you’re meeting with a professional colleague for the first time, Cialdini recommends you “send a letter of introduction that says, ‘I’m looking forward to our interaction on Thursday on the topic of X, and my background and experience with regard to X are as follows.’” That conveys your expertise powerfully -- and in a way you that wouldn’t be appropriate face-to-face.
Develop your own content. If you’re perceived as a commodity by your customers, you’ll have to charge average (or below average) prices. But if you’re seen as an expert, you can command a premium. If you want to shift to higher-paid work, then, it’s imperative that you start writing or otherwise creating content so you can showcase your knowledge and justify the extra expense. No one will pay more for your product or service unless they receive serious value for it. (But the psychological comfort of working with a real authority is well worth the price.)
Join an association. A quick way to gain recognition in your field (and be viewed as playing at a high level) is to take on a leadership role in a professional association. It helps you make connections with other practitioners (always good for referrals, in case they can’t handle a particular assignment) and ensures you’re staying on top of the latest thinking and best practices. But even more than that, it provides an opportunity to build visibility among your peers and beyond.
Attracting better, higher-paying work can be a challenge. But if you notify your contacts about your new direction and consistently send the right signals about your expertise, you can soon “move up the ladder” into the kind of projects you really want.