Nick Leffler is no stranger to the side-gig. Whether he was in school studying web design or employed full-time at companies offering Internet communications and digital marketing services, for years Nick dug deeper into those fields by working for himself, too. In 2014, Nick decided he was ready to focus on helping small businesses reach new customers in the digital age. Today, Nick is dedicated to building his own dream, not someone else’s. Here, the self-declared “online presence coordinator” and founder of Exprance explains why he recommends giving away priceless information for free and why, when it comes to some clients, sometimes it pays to just say no.
Nick, tell us about your business and how it came to be.
I’ve always worked in the field of Internet technology in some way, whether it was web design, online marketing or digital communications. There are plenty of companies offering websites and other marketing tools, but I take a different approach to my business. I don’t sell a product or a commodity; I sell business growth and a return on investment (ROI). My customers are business owners who want to refresh or improve their online presence and convert leads into actual customers. My job is to understand my clients’ industry, their business goals and how their online presence is (or isn’t) working for them. I come up with an overall project estimate using a four-step process that includes conducting industry-specific research and a phone interview to discuss target audience and other details.
What’s your most effective strategy for getting new clients?
Aside from referrals and search engine listings, my primary marketing tool is giving away valuable information for free. I send out a newsletter every other week and update my blog twice a week. My subscribers get access to lots of meaningful, targeted articles and insights to help them grow their business online. I also offer a free, personalized “online presence report” and free “review” templates to send to existing customers so they can easily post a positive review online.
Helping, rather than simply selling, is key for building a lasting, trust-based relationship with my audience. When they want to learn more about growing their audience, they already know I can help them solve problems and reach new customers. As I explain on my website, “Sounds odd giving all this info away free, right? It's not. How else would you know I'm a great fit to help you grow your brand online?”
When you work for yourself, it can be hard to imagine ever saying “no” to a potential client. Thoughts?
I try to avoid ever having to “fire” a customer by setting very clear expectations and deliverables upfront. Once I’ve assessed a client’s existing online presence and business goals, I gauge how much growth and ROI I believe I can deliver and in what timeframe. If a client has unrealistic expectations, I let them know right away. For instance, I’ll say I can help you with “X” but not necessarily “Y,” or I’ll extend a deadline to make sure it’s realistic. I’m always honest in my feedback and appraisal, even if it ultimately means turning down a new customer. I’d say about 20% of prospective clients are a really good fit.
Any particular challenge you’ve faced in working for yourself?
My ongoing, everyday challenge is learning when to do something myself and when to farm it out to an expert. For example, if a client wants a new logo or has some other graphic design need, I’ll work with a professional designer who can do the job better than me. Of course, I always weigh in on the work and integrate feedback from the customer. I have a great working relationship with a stable of people I rely on to produce high quality work that extends the value I can provide to clients.
Nick, what tips do you have for other entrepreneurs?
First, always be authentic. Be yourself, and don’t be afraid to let clients see who you really are.
Second, always do what’s best for your customer. Not only will they thank you for your hard work, you’ll be happier with yourself. Plus, you’ll be on track for building lasting relationships and getting great referrals down the road.
Third, make sure you charge a fair amount for your product or services. You don't have to get rich, but you should charge enough that you’re happy to do the work exceptionally well. If you undercharge, you won't be happy. And nobody does their best work when they're not happy.
What do you hope to get from being part of a small business community?
I love meeting other business owners to get a better idea of what they do and the problems they face. Communities like this one are a great place to meet other people who work for themselves and to understand what makes their business tick.
QB Community members, do you give products or services away for free? If so, why? We hope you’ll share your valuable experience in the comments below.
I’ve been self-employed for most of my career as content specialist, so I know how much discipline and determination it takes to run your own business. As QB Community Content Chief, I love sharing the stories of people committed to doing things their way. I hope you’ll join our community and share your inspiring story!