You, in a (compelling) nutshell

Given enough time and attention, anyone could explain what she does. (Hopefully.) But how to do it fast, brilliantly and in a way that makes people want to hear more? Make it about them, always and everywhere. Recipe follows…

One of the toughest things to come up with is that introductory bit of language that sums up you and your business in a clear, concise and meaningful way.

The first page of your website is a prime example. You know—the part where you explain in a simple, wildly compelling paragraph or two what the hell it is you do, how your particular way of doing it is suffused with excellence and uniqueness, and why on earth anyone should consider engaging you to do it for them.

Yeah. That page.

The truth is, every page of your website is that page, or the underpinnings of it are. Because every page of your site, along with every bit of communication you have when connecting with potential clients for the first time, should be saying the same thing:

Are you this person with this problem?
I can help!
Here’s how….

Three little pieces of information that form the structural underpinning of every sound business website, pitch or piece of marketing:

  1. Identify exactly who your ideal client is
  2. Give your credentials or “reason why”
  3. Explain enough of your process to give people a taste for more

The formula works both because it’s simple and because it keeps theconversation focused on them (and what you can do for them), rather than letting you wander off into dig-me territory. It infuses your credentials with life and meaning rather than letting them become some dry list of factoids. And (hooray!) it helps start a conversation, rather than just presenting something static or close-looped.

Now obviously (or at least, I hope it’s obvious!), you’re not going to copy this exact sentence, fill in the blanks and presto! Or at least, you’re not going to stop there. The way you explicitly lay out your target, who you are and why you’re fabulous and how it all works for them should vary depending on what it is you do and what your particular flavor is, not to mention the circumstances. You’re going to be more formal on your site than you are at a cocktail party (I hope).

But if you get stuck, go back to the skeleton:

  • Are you this person with this problem?
  • I can help;
  • here’s how…

Once you’ve applied the formula to your central piece of marketing copy, try applying it to other elements of your website:

Your user interface (UI):

Is your navigation speaking to your target audience? If you offer interior decoration services to both nannies and chimney sweeps (hey! I love Mary Poppins!), are there buttons or menu links that take each directly where she wants to go?

On my main website, for example, I write mostly creative non-fiction (what we old-timers used to call “essays”) about change and personal growth. But because of my history, I’ve also got a lot of information for actors and people with Crohn’s disease. So I created landing pages just for them, and placed gigantic, well-marked navigational elements in a sidebar that click straight through to those pages.

Your biography:

The best bios apply this formula, too. Any information you’re giving about yourself should be information that supports your central thesis. This is not the place to blather on about your accomplishments, unless both the accomplishments AND the blathering are proof to your audience that they are in the right place, and you are the person they should be talking to. Otherwise, keep it them-focused and concise.

Your website content:

Are your helpful links organized in such a way that your target audience can make easy use of them? Do your news items help your case, or are they a You-Fest parade? (The Biznik 95/5 ratio of helpfulness to self-promotion explained to me by Howard Howell is a good rule of thumb on your own website, too.) Do your blog posts and articles contain enough of a flavor of you to establish you, in particular, as the unique expert who can help them? (Beware wandering too far from authentic voice, especially on the Internet!)

Not every element needs to answer all three questions, although it’s a trifecta to aim for. Your nav bar or buttons will most likely just speak to the first part of the formula (Are you this person with this problem?), or maybe even one or other component of that question (“Are you this person?” or “Do you have this problem?”).

As you get the hang of looking at things from the perspective of the formula, you’ll start seeing how all your communications can be more focused on the people you’re wanting to reach:

  • Your 10-second statement, or “Verbal Business Card”
  • Your tagline
  • Your hard-copy business card
  • Your LinkedIn profile
  • Your various and sundry social media profiles
  • Your one-sheet (for the five of you who still have one-sheets)
  • Your eBooks
  • Your email signature(s)
  • Your advertising (for the eight of you who still do traditional advertising)
  • Your promotional offerings

Don’t forget to adjust your marketing communications as your business changes and grows. The brilliant crystallization of thought that worked like gangbusters in 1999 is probably going to look a little wack today (and if you don’t believe me, I have a few Flash splash pages to show you).

Bottom line: it can be hard enough to communicate clearly when there’s nothing at stake. When it’s your living on the line, it can be nigh on impossible.

Use the formula to help you step outside of yourself and look at the problem. Create a workhorse piece of copy you can adapt and apply in different situations. Consider enlisting a buddy to cheer you on and serve as sounding board; this is a great exercise to do in pairs or small groups.

If you take it slowly and treat it as a game—albeit a very important one—before you know it, you’ll be ubiquitously fascinating across all your media vehicles.

And pretty darned compelling in person, too.

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