virtually (working by phone with fax and E-mail backup in a coaching
practice effectively opens up all of the United States and Canada
as a market. The more experience I have had with accomplished psychologists
adding virtual coaching as a practice specialty, the more convinced
I have become that we already possess most of the skills necessary
to establish powerful relationships with individual or group coaching
clients (Dean, 1999b). The key question then becomes how do you get
those clients? It is one thing to market on a local basis using traditional
marketing approaches in your community. But how do you market when
your niche extends throughout North America? Here are some thoughts
that have helped me address these issues.
with a Niche
seasoned psychologists would agree that there are major advantages
for marketing a clinical practice if you present yourself as having
a specialty, as opposed to offering yourself as a general purpose
therapist who can work with any disorder. This is true in spades
when you expand from a local to a national or international market
(Beckwith, 1997; Ries, 1996; Ries & Ries, 1998). It is much more
effective to market yourself virtually within a tightly defined coaching
niche than as a utility infielder who can coach anyone.
if you want to coach generally, it is useful to emphasize a market
niche in your virtual marketing. If you don't know what niche to
start with, one of my basic axioms is that it is better to learn
how to do virtual marketing with a less-than-perfect niche than never
to start, waiting for that perfect niche to hit you like lightning.
are some examples of great market niches? Not working with all corporate
executives but with executives in the banking industry or with female
executives at midlife in the insurance industry. Not working with
adults who have ADD, but with some subset of that group, such as
professionals with ADD within a given industry. The more focused
the niche, the better.
Funnel of Trust
assume you have chosen a tightly focused market niche. For me, one
of the most useful ways to think about a marketing strategy is illustrated
in Figure 1. Imagine a funnel in which the top represents the universe
of prospects in your potential niche, either throughout North America
or globally, and the bottom represents those people who trust you,
refer clients to you, and know that you will give excellent service
to anyone they send to you.
a dimension of trust running from the top of the funnel to the bottom.
At the top of the funnel there is no trust; at the bottom, great
trust. People at the top of the funnel are regularly besieged by
thousands of advertising messages a week, screening out most of them.
With very little time, they are often overcommitted, and have no
reason to believe that even a trial coaching experience with you
would be a wise investment of their time. The vast majority of them
have never heard of you. They have no reason to trust you, and good
reason to be skeptical and suspicious.
people at the bottom do know and trust you. This group includes current,
satisfied clients. Some of these clients will have experienced your
professionalism, expertise, and caring for an extended period of
time. Perhaps they feel you have helped them transform their professional
or personal lives. Or they may be colleagues or referring professionals
who have repeatedly seen evidence that you do exceptional work in
a compassionate, caring manner. For these individuals, their trust
in you is deep and enduring.
marketing task is clear. It is, first, to begin to develop a relationship
with as large a percentage of the people at the top of the funnel
as possible. It is, then, to bring a subset of those people down
that dimension of trust - slowly and incrementally.
move even a small percentage of individuals down that continuum,
you will have more clients than you can handle in two lifetimes.
But how do you develop trust with an extremely large national market?
And how do you do this cost effectively when you don't have the deep
pockets of say, Mercedes Benz, for regular television advertising?
there are many ways. Perhaps the most powerful would be to have a
regular daily television show or nationally syndicated radio program.
Oprah Winfrey has an opportunity to develop relationships of trust
with millions of people. If you could even regularly appear on her
program you would have a huge advantage. Also effective would be
writing a popular syndicated newspaper column. Or writing a respected
bestseller within your market niche.
if these methods aren't open to you? What if you have very little
money and less time? How can one market a coaching practice nationally?
effective approach is to find a way to get the permission of a large
proportion of your target market to send them free, valuable information
on a regular basis. The word "permission" is key. If they
choose to receive your message, they are less likely to screen it
out; much more likely to actually read and be influenced by it (Dean,
the ideal ways to transmit this free information is through a regular
E-mail or fax-broadcast newsletter. This newsletter can be only one
or two pages long. Even if it is published no more frequently than
monthly, if it speaks to major concerns of your prospects in a clear,
compelling, from-the-heart manner, it can be extraordinarily effective.
Especially if you take the approach that you are serving the entire
universe of your potential prospects as if they were already your
clients. If you don't hold a lot back from them. If you give them
valuable information that helps them solve their most important problems.
And if you do it month after month after month.
of an E-mail Newsletter
advantage of a regular E-mail newsletter is that it offers you a
cost-effective way to develop a relationship with your universe of
potential prospects so that over time, step by step, they can come
to know and trust who you are.
the advantages are reach, efficiency, cost, and speed. You can send
a newsletter as easily and as cost effectively to 10 million readers
as to one, once the mechanism is set up. You can inexpensively set
up software that will automatically handle all subscriptions and
unsubscriptions to your newsletter with no attention or time required
on your part. The cost and effort needed to add more and more subscribers
is virtually zero.
of course, the speed with which you can dispatch a large E-mailing
is striking. In terms of time expended, a mailing, whether to one
person or broadcast to millions, requires only the second it takes
to press the "Enter" key.
advantage of the E-mail newsletter is that it is so easy for people
to forward to friends. Thus the reach of a good newsletter can be
much greater than its actual subscribers. I have discovered that
readers frequently forward my newsletters to colleagues, rebroadcast
them on listservs, and post them to web sites. So, especially when
compared to newsletters sent in hard copy by surface mail, E-mail
newsletters are constantly forwarded to new readers, many of whom
are many examples of writers of E-mail newsletters who have benefited
greatly. Let me give you one example from my own experience about
its power as a promotional vehicle.
years ago when I was moving into the virtual coaching arena I wanted
to get experience leading a virtual workshop, a workshop for geographically
dispersed members united by audio teleconference (see Dean, 1998)
. And to make it safer for myself, I chose a subject with which I'd
had a lot of experience: strategies for overcoming writer's block.
I had presented on this topic nationally and had often received a
strong response when this workshop was offered in graduate institutions
to ABD's and faculty.
decided to offer a workshop on two successive Monday nights for an
hour. I placed ads in the student newspapers at Duke, Michigan, and
Berkeley asking for students who would be willing to put flyers up
advertising the free workshop. I hired students in each of these
places. I had a professionally designed flyer put together. And I
Fed Ex'ed the students hundreds of flyers to put up.
previously when I had offered this workshop at the University of
Maryland, more than 400 people had attended. So I was anticipating
huge numbers of people. In fact, I only got three. Two people from
Duke, a visiting professor from Russia at Michigan, and nobody from
Berkeley. I was nervous during the call and perplexed at the turnout.
this with my experience ten months later. I decided to get the experience
of writing an E-mail newsletter for doctoral candidates even though
I knew it was a fatally flawed coaching niche because most of these
ABD's do not have the discretionary income to hire a coach.
my newsletter, "The All-But-Dissertation Survival Guide" (Dean,
1999a), at a workshop in October, picked up about 70 or 80 subscribers
and started sending it out periodically that December. By the following
March I had 250 subscribers. I announced the newsletter on the NEW-LIST
(details below) and picked up 1000 subscribers in one week, including
subscribers from all over the world and most major American universities.
By August, the subscription had grown to about 1900.
none of these people had met me or known who I was at the beginning.
But month after month they were receiving (at their own request)
a one or two page newsletter that was simply written, from the heart,
and very focused on practical strategies to help them make progress
on their most important issue, completing the dissertation. So over
time I was developing a relationship, I believe, of increasing trust
with many of my readers.
August, on a Tuesday, I sent out a half-page E-mail offering a free
workshop that would take place within 48 hours at 9 PM Eastern time.
That single E-mail brought over 200 readers immediately requesting
information about the call. And 48 hours later, between 75 and 100
participants from throughout the United States, Canada, and Hawaii
showed up for an intense, action packed, interesting one-hour virtual
was the difference? Why would this simple E-mail generate such a
response in 48 hours, whereas all the time and money I spent getting
flyers put up on campuses only attracted three people? The obvious
answer is that over time, through the newsletter, I had developed
a relationship of increasing trust with these readers who were willing
to take a chance on me, and experience my one-hour virtual workshop.
an E-mail newsletter is only one of a number of ways to build trust
with a large group of geographically dispersed prospects, it is powerful
and especially relevant for marketing in a national or international
arena. As the number of E-mail users continues to expand exponentially,
its importance in virtual marketing will only grow.
like some low-risk ways to explore further whether an E-mail newsletter
makes sense for you, here are some initial steps:
to Five or Ten Free E-mail Newsletters. By
subscribing, you can begin to see what you like and don't like
in a newsletter, and later this will help you decide on the format
for your own. An excellent place to find an archive of hundreds
of E-mail newsletters is the NEW-LIST mailing list (available
on the web at http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/ut/caservices/new-list/).
Further, by subscribing to the NEW-LIST (at http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/),
you'll receive each week dozens of announcements of brand new
newsletters that are just debuting.
Out Your Competition. When
you are considering potential niches, see if anyone else is using
an E-mail newsletter in your niche. Check out the NEW-LIST archive
and search by key word on the web. But even if you find an existing
newsletter, don't fold your tent too quickly. Check to see if
they offer coaching, especially virtual groups via audio teleconference
(Dean, 1998). If they do not, they are probably not a serious
competitor. And check to see if they have seriously penetrated
the niche. In most cases, that will not be the case, and there
is still plenty of room for you.
Potential Titles. A
good newsletter title is succinct and self-explanatory. It does
not have to be flashy or cute. And its purpose can be amplified
by its tag line.
Potential Tag Lines. Ries
argues that a key marketing goal is "to own a word in the
prospect's mind" (1996). There is limited available real
estate there. And your goal should be to have no more than a
single idea associated with your coaching practice in your prospect's
awareness. A key way to do this is through a tag line that is
driven home on every communication (business cards, letter head,
web site, etc.). A tag line often appears under the company name
and typically captures your most important benefit or unique
characteristic. Mine, for example, is "Helping accomplished
clinicians become extraordinary coaches." An important place
for your tag line will be just below the title of every newsletter.
on Frequency. While
the optimal frequency is probably daily or weekly, a monthly
newsletter works well and, for a busy clinician, is often best.
the Relative Value of a Web Site. What
most web designers won't tell you (or don't understand) is that
an E-mail newsletter is much more effective than a web site.
If I had to choose, I'd go E-mail every time. Why? Because most
members of your universe of prospects will not revisit your web
site over and over. And repeated contact is how you build a relationship.
But your E-mail newsletter will go directly to them, and they'll
be much more likely to read it. Again and again. Certainly the
best combination is to have both. But don't assume you have to
have an expensive web site before you can start marketing virtually.
You don't. You can either do without or have one that initially
does nothing more than take subscriptions to your newsletter.
How You'll Handle Subscriptions. While
you can handle them manually, I wouldn't recommend it. Far better
is software that automatically handles all subscriptions and
unsubscriptions. If you have a web site, your web host should
be able to set this up for you, usually at no cost. Or you can
use one of the excellent, free services available on the web
(see www.onelist.com or www.listbot.com, for example). A very
useful exercise would be to go to one of these sites, for example,
www.listbot.com, and set up a simple mailing service for your
friends or family. You'll see how easy it is.
the Boilerplate. Parts
of your newsletter will stay the same regardless of the issue's
content. This includes items such as your title, tag line, index,
bio, information on subscribing and unsubscribing, whether and
how the newsletter can be reprinted, etc. See how others have
handled these items and then draft your own.
to Pay Attention to the "Form" of E-mail Newsletter
very different from writing for paper publications. The writing
must be scannable. Use short sentences, short paragraphs, subheads,
bullets, numbers. Keep line lengths under 66 characters. There's
an art to writing for a computer monitor. So start by just paying
attention to it.
a File for Potential Newsletter Topics. Include
everything that might be useful here. And jot down possible topics
for your first five to ten issues. Think in terms of the most
important problems of your potential readers. Also understand
that a secondary use of your newsletters will be to send relevant
back issues to prospective clients at the point they first seriously
contact you. One criterion for topic selection, then, is what
would be most useful to send to such a prospect.
a Trial Issue. Try
your hand at one. Send it to friends for margin comments. Revise
it a few times. Consider keeping it brief. As little as 700 to
900 words can work.
Your Canoe in the Water. The
first 11 steps are exploratory and low-risk. If you decide you
want to go ahead, a next step might be to announce your newsletter
on the NEW-LIST. Within days, you'll have some global subscribers.
(A special note: it's unusual to pick up 1,000 readers as I did
with my NEW-LIST submission. More typical are 25 to 200 new subscribers.)
Also subscribe your colleagues and friends. Getting readers,
knowing you will be read, often receiving appreciative comments
from around the globe-all these will start to pull you along,
making this process easier and more fun.
newsletter is, of course, not an end in itself. It is one of a number
of powerful strategies for developing a relationship with as large
a percentage as possible of the universe of prospects in your niche.
Again, you will need only a small portion of these prospects to journey
down the dimension of trust for you to develop a huge practice.
writing your newsletter, your focus should not be on your paying
clients, but on the universe of prospects, most of whom may never
work with you directly. A major key-at least for me-is to attempt
to serve the entire universe of readers as if they were my clients.
This will free you to give away rich, valuable information. And it
will allow you to have a positive impact on many more people than
you could ever serve directly.
my East Coast colleagues, just getting established in a niche, recently
received an E-mail which said, "Thank you so much for the wonderful
work you are doing. We read your newsletter every month. I have taken
your newsletter to my church. We have discussed it in our support
group, and we are using many of your ideas. Your work is so helpful
in helping us confront the problems of making the transition from
a divorce into a new life. Please keep up the good work. God's speed
to you." This letter was from South Africa.
now have readers on six continents, in 51 countries, a not uncommon
experience for an E-mail newsletter publisher. You can too. Increasingly
as the digital revolution continues, we have the opportunity to help
people throughout the world. For me, this is one of the most rewarding
aspects of working virtually.
Harry. (1997). Selling the invisible: A field guide to modern marketing.
B. (1998), The psychologist as virtual coach. The Independent Practitioner,
18 (4), 188-189.
B. (1999a). The all-but-dissertation survival guide (A free, monthly
E-mail newsletter available on the web at http://www.ecoach.com or
by calling 301.986.5688.
B. (1999b). The therapist as virtual coach (A free, monthly E-mail
newsletter available on the web at http://www.mentorcoach.com or
by calling 301.986.5688.
A.. (1996). Focus: The future of your company depends on it. NY:
L, & Ries, A. (1998). The 22 immutable laws of branding: How
to build a product or service into a world-class brand. NY: HarperCollins.