The Quad State Federation of Freelance Business Solution Providers

Just What Is the Value of the Independent Advice Marketer to Your Business?

Is it time that those of us in business paid more attention to the singletons marketing their services—aka freelancers?

OK, don’t try to Google that association appearing in my headline. Ain’t no such animal. Yet.

Is it time that those of us in business media paid more attention to the contributions of the freelancer to our Quad State business?

Of the 43,000+ businesses that the IRS identifies in our Quad State, 1-81 corridor footprint, probably over half of them, maybe up to 80% according to some IRS figures, are sole-owner businesses. So for us here at the Quad State Business Journal, I’d say yes, it is time we started recognizing the freelancer.

Just in our contiguous counties making up our I-81 corridor, there are an estimated 337 different markets covered. That certainly makes ‘attorney’ and ‘accountant’ two of the main advertisers group in any Yellow Page book look smaller when compared to 337 markets.

The 337 markets take into account markets you probably wouldn’t find in a local phone book such as a consultant in extruded plastics or expert witness in decayed body analysis.

No, for most of us, even if we sport an MBA in entrepreneurship, as a freelancer, we still tend to go where the money is—that is where the market is hot. And if the market is tending more toward mature businesses, that is where we will go. It may even be a case of the buggy whip sales person becoming a horse trainer for the most part in re-positioning or re-inventing ourselves.

What Kind of Value Proposition Do You Hold of Freelancers?

I can use personal pronouns for this article, because that is what I spent the vast part of my 41 years in the business world doing—convincing clients they should hire me—or hire a group I was associated with that was made up of a complement of niche-skilled freelancers.

As regular QSBJ readers will remember, I used to give the plenary marketing talk for the Independent Computer Consultants Association annual meeting in Washington, DC. And while I hardly knew a bit from a byte or a single line of code, I could speak on the common language of client acquisition Freelancers, yea verily, even some contractors, sell time and bill hourly. For all of us—clients or freelancers—we need to develop a UVP or USP, as it is more often called, for our businesses.

It Makes a Difference As to What Kind of Business You Are Really In–for Your Customers

As to a UVP or USP (Unique Value Proposition and Unique Selling/Sales Proposition) the definitions are basically cut from the same cloth.

If you attended an MBA class in the 1970s or 80s, chances are better than average, one of your profs gave you the case history of the early years of the American railroads vs. the Canadian railroad business. The question was usually around why did one country’s railroad (Canada) do so much better than another (USA) in the early growth years of the railroad industry.

The answer was that one country (Canada) developed their Unique Value/Selling Proposition better than the other country (USA). (The USA has wised-up over the years from their early struggles.)

America, in answer to the question, “What business are we really in?” came up with the UVP of ‘We are in the railroading business and move goods and people along tracks across the USA as customer’s desire.’

Canada, in answer to the UVP question, came up with, ‘We are in the transportation business and therefore can also connect goods to other modes of transportation of sea or air as customer’s desire.’

The more recent company Value Proposition comes from IBM vs. Microsoft and Bill Gates. IBM stated that they were in the computer hardware business while Gates proclaimed they were in the softwareA business.

How you see your company, yourself, your service, your contribution,makes all the difference in the world because that is how your potential customers will see you.

Finding Your Unique Value Proposition As a Freelancer

Say you’ve worked in the legal profession in a former life. You now offer a niche design service to law firms. Throw up a landing page that uses words like “clients” and whatever other language lawyers like to use. Make yourself a lower risk hire for a lawyer who wants a site redone. 99% of lawyers will prefer to hire the “web designer who specializes in helping lawyers get new clients off the Internet” versus a “web designer.”

As a special bonus, you also offer free seminars/webinars for lawyers, showcase your expertise and understanding of their website, their domain, and build up a newsletter and contact pool that establishes yourself as THE web designer for lawyers.

By establishing yourself as the expert—or even the thought leader–within a niche, you’ll receive more leads and thus can command a higher rate than say the ‘average’ web consultant.


Take Time to Find Your Unique Value Proposition

Talk to your existing or potential customers and ask key questions:

  • Why did or would you choose my services over other service marketers?
  • How can I make my service more valuable to you and your business?
  • What service or deliverable can I offer you to make my value increase 2x?

[Sidebar on this last question: When I was working with professional service marketers in the early 1980s, I had a client who was going for a gig with A T & T at their headquarters in New Jersey. We were just getting into his per diem rates. He was at $800/day and he had called me and told me that his clients made so much money off of his services that he was going to raise his rates to $900/day maybe even $950/day.

I told him that I did not know (then) what a consultant in the mergers & acquisitions market went for in the Fortune 500 world as to per diem. But seeing that as he had a friend at the AT & T headquarters he played racquetball with every Friday morning, I gave him an assignment to just ask what corporate expects to pay for ‘my kind of talent.’

My client got very indignant and told me that my assignment was just too embarrassing. I asked him to call me that Friday, whatever the outcome was. Friday afternoon I received a call from a breathless client who finally got up the nerve to ask his AT & T friend what AT & T expected to pay for ‘his kind of talent.’

I still remember our conversation almost verbatim. He told me they were having their usual coffee after their workout and gradually he got up the nerve. He said he hemmed and hawed his way through my question, but was interrupted by his friend half way through. His friend said…

“Jim, you probably want to know what corporate expects to pay for your kind of talent. Jim, I know you are up for the M & A assignment and I’m glad I have nothing to do with it. Jim, I don’t know what you charge for your services and I don’t want to know. But I’m telling you right now, Jim, that corporate doesn’t even look at someone with your background for less than $2,500/day….”

My client, who was determined to maybe raise his rate to $950/day, said he almost lost his mouthful of coffee when he heard his friend state the rate, bid the job and got the job at $2,500/day.]

Ask Customers Why They Didn’t Accept Your Proposal:

  • I want to improve my service and my value. Why didn’t you choose my service? What was I unclear on as to my value?
  • Whom did you decide to go with and why? (Ask in general terms what their decision was based on. Do not be a sour-grapes type of cross-examiner. Sincerely want to know.)
  • Are you happy with their service? Why?

It might be that your strengths lie in other areas…maybe you are not a good proposal writer. Maybe you need someone to edit your work. Maybe you need someone to write it for you. Whatever. You need to focus on building your strengths, not building up your weaknesses. This is where a lot of us get off the track. Bottom line, you need to go with your passion.

Finding and Growing Into Your Unique Value/Selling Proposition

What do others say you are good at?

Have others told you that you should be charging more for your services?

Do you feel that you are not worthy of earning what you are worth ‘in the Quad State area’ or outside the Beltway or large city?

Obviously, there must be a happy medium between the number of clients who are ready, able and willing to get happily involved with you and those who think you are over-priced.

The bottom line is to start asking people. Take prospective clients—or people who know them—to lunch. Pick their brain. Have something valuable to offer them for their business.

People do business with people they know and respect. Start there on your UVP, OK?

Let me know any questions you may have of course.



About Steve Lanning

Steve Lanning is a nationally recognized entrepreneur who has been creating his own paycheck since 1975 and loves to help others do likewise. As the founder of both the National Association of Business Coaches (sold in 2002) and the Consultants National Resource Center (for all marketers of professional services), he and his family have lived in three of the four states in our Quad State region. His passion is to see individuals and small businesses, start-ups to mature, discover and promote their strengths in building revenue streams individually, that, collectively, make for a strong region as reported on and celebrated by the Quad State Business Journal. He can be contacted at

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