What if your ideal clients applied to work with you automatically and you didn’t have to live any of these way too common stories anymore:
- Looking for gigs on an online platform, competing against cheap freelancers on price
- Making a proposal for someone who isn’t a good fit and is shopping around, effectively losing dozens of unpaid hours
- Waiting and praying for a referral to come your way when you finish the current project so, you don’t spend too many days or weeks in between projects.
Even if you’re well paid when you work, do you have enough work coming your way?
What if you could build a sales pipeline with people who want and wait to work with you seeking you and your expertise only?
You can and you don’t need to be special to make it happen.
But to do that, you’ll need to build your own sales funnel!
In this guide, I share everything I've learned from the best in the industry to build your own evergreen and automated sales funnel and to sell your services online effectively.
But first, a quick backstory.
I started off freelancing on the wrong foot. My online venture wasn't going where I wanted it to go and I either had to go get a job (my ego didn't let me do that) or find consulting clients.
I had a problem, though...
I didn't work for an agency, had almost zero portfolios (except my failed business attempts), had a background in accounting and thought I was smart (I wasn't).
I didn't go out and talked to people (I should have).
Ididn't even tell my network that I was freelancing (If you're starting out, be smarter than I was).
I started sending random local business cold emails... crickets! (No strong positioning statement didn't talk about the expensive problem that the leads might have).
I eventually found something that worked.
I decided to do Lead Generation through Facebook Ads for Local Gyms.
I recorded a Video Case study with a calendar link to the application and sent it to 100 gyms in the french-speaking part of Switzerland
I got on the phone with 6-7 and ended up working with 3.
It was a good strategy:
- I niched down
- Offered a value-based solution
- Solved an expensive problem
But...very early, I saw that I didn't enjoy working with the gym industry (it's a race to the bottom and a tough business).
But it started a journey where I decided to learn how to build a strong consulting business and understand how to effectively sell services (online). I read every article I could find, followed courses and identified the signal from the noise.
In this post, I share everything that I learned about the subject and will help you build your own effective sales funnel to sell your services.
What is a Sales Funnel?
Sales Funnel - A series of steps that will lead a potential buyer towards a buying decision.
This guide will teach you how to build your very own sales funnel and create your own deal flow.
I spent the better part of 2018 exploring this question:
“How to effectively sell your services online?”
Now, even if you’re active locally and not only on the internet, read on! The system I outline works both online, offline or in a combination of both.
The framework I present will help you acquire new leads, build trust and show your expertise up to selling them an engagement with you, pretty much automatically.
To be clear, I didn’t invent the system but gathered a lot of ideas from giants and nice people in the industry. All credits is due to them:
- Brennan Dunn who helps freelancers "Double their freelancing" and teahces a very similar approach in his course "The Blueprint"
- Brian Casel who helps service providers productize their services and acquire customers online
- Jonathan Stark who helps software consultants "Ditch Hourly Billing"
- Jane Portman who wrote a great book "Productize Consulting"
- Greg Hickman who helps service providers "Simplify and systemize their business"
- Kai Davis who helps consltants "getting more leads"
- Paul Jarvis who teaches creatives "The business of freelancing"
- Matt Ackerson who helps service providers "build their sales funnel and productize their services"
The framework below works and is being used by savvy consultants, coaches and other service providers. It’s being used in some form by 1’000s of smart business owners and I merely gathered pieces for my own business, learning and making sense of all of it bit by bit.
And the approach is not crazy complicated. You mostly need to apply good practices of traditional info-product internet marketing to your consulting & service business.
How the sales funnel will look like - the big picture
- We bring Traffic from different channels: offline networking, seminars, referrals, written and video content, conferences, borrowed audience or paid traffic and retargeted paid traffic.
- We engage a conversation and promote our Lead Magnet to this traffic. It is a free email course or a video demo that will educate, build trust, show your expertise and pitch.
- We promote the initial service offering of our Value Ladder. It is a productized offering, likely an audit, report or roadmapping engagement.
- We build a system to follow up automatically with every lead with an evergreen newsletter and with past clients for referrals, upsells or testimonials.
The system will help you generate and create your own leads automatically. It’ll also build you an audience of people who might become clients later or bring you referrals.
You can go from a referral source of a handful of past clients to 1’000s of subscribers who trust and like you.
It’s a great way to expand your luck surface area!
Marketing Automation for service providers
So many solo consultants or SME's could benefit from marketing automation, but so few know about the possibilities.
Many think that automation is for big companies or for business selling online only. It is not true! Let's have a look at what we are talking about and how it will be a big part of your sales funnel and more.
What is Marketing Automation
Let’s start again with a definition:
Marketing Automation - Using technology to be your best self every day automatically by sending relevant, personalized and automated emails to the right people and at the right time.
Now, a good way to look at it is to record yourself to present your best self, every single day and automatically.
When you build an educational email that gets sent automatically, you recorded your IP and delivered it in a leveraged way automatically.
Whether 1, 10, 100 or 1’000s persons get it, it doesn't cost you a dime more. On the contrary, the more people receive it, the more valuable your network and circle of influence becomes.
The goal of automation is to do exactly that, record your best self and leverage technology to serve more people better.
It is exactly where it fits in your funnel. Automation will help you with your end goal, automating the lead acquisition, education, conversion, onboarding, fulfillment.
Automation: save time, be more professional and sell while you sleep
Automation is magic in the sense that it gets better over time. Every single person that goes through it can give you feedback and you can then improve it incrementally.
Every single person that enters your audience becomes a potential client and a potential source of referrals. If 100 persons trust you and they each know 100 persons, you 2nd degree network becomes way bigger really fast.
Now automation is not only about marketing. You can automate big chunks of your business:
- Lead qualification
- Appointment scheduling
- Asking for referrals
- Asking for testimonials
- Following up
- Onboarding new clients
Over time, you’ll save a lot of time and do this follow up that we sometimes push back...
But it’s not the end.
Three other really valuable advantages:
- Set it and almost forget it. Once built, it’s low maintenance.
- No leads will be left behind, whether they buy today or in 18 months, the system can follow up softly until they are ready to buy.
- You will appear much more professionalYou’ll show that you have a process and that you follow up on time. The experience of the clients will be the best they ever had.
Now Let’s get specific with and build your sales funnel.
The Consultant Value Ladder
The first piece you need to define in your sales funnel is the value ladder of the services you offer.
Let’s start with an explanation of the value ladder:
The simple premise is to create a list of products/services sold in ascending order of price and magnitude (e.g., 10$ > 100$ > 1’000$ > 10’000$). Each offer is a step to help at the current situation and a relatively low-level of trust needed to make a buying decision. You make it non-risky to work with you.
Defining a value ladder doesn’t only make it easy to buy from you. It also simplifies your marketing and creates an ideal customer journey.
Each step prepares the next step by educating your ideal client, showing you can help and letting them try to work with you at a low risk.
You want them to ascend your ladder of trust.
And if a lead doesn’t have the budget, he can become a client and purchase only the lower rungs without you having to discount your rate or saying no.
Different people need different solutions and have different budgets.
What is a typical service provider value ladder?
- Continuity Services (Advising, Optimizing, Training, Maintenance) $$$$
- Project $$$
- Productized service $$
- Audit, Report (Initial Service Offering) $
- Consultation (FREE or paid)
- Lead Magnet (FREE against email)
- Articles and Guides (FREE)
You initial service offering
You don’t sell a big project from your website and if these are your expactations, I can't help you.
The best clients are current clients. It’s so much easier to sell to existing clients, even at 10x the price.
Therefore, your goal is to make it easy for a lead to become a client and the best way to do that is to create an offering at a lower price.
An excellent way to do this is to sell an initial service around the strategy of your main project.
You sit down with the client, look at their needs and offer a consulting service to decide if they should act and if yes what they should do. You sell a prescription for what needs to be done.
It’s at a low enough price to be almost an impulse buy. It lets the client make an informed decision without investing much. It lets you and the client test each other and it creates trust.
Two important things here:
- You want to create a strategic service that fits exactly in the customer journey. This service needs to help the buyer making a Yes/No purchasing decision. (Selling a low ticket offering but completely unrelated doesn’t work here)
- You want leverage in the delivery. You should create a way to be able to give 10x value without spending too much time. Create systems, templates, questionnaires, and tools to make the value delivery systemized and simple.
A fully productized service (alternative to ISO)
You could also sell a productized service at this point.
A productized service is a service packaged as a product that presents several of these characteristics:
- Fixed scope
- Fixed price
- Clearly defined market
- Clearly defined process (IP)
- Sales copy focused on the benefits
- Description of the outcome for the buyer
Let’s look at examples of good productized services:
- DFY Content + promotion (AudienceOps of Brian Casel)
- 1x A/B test a mont (Draft from Nick Disabato)
But why would you do that?
Productizing an offer creates many benefits and opportunities:
- You can duplicate and scale your process.
- You gain leverage (time and rates) by specializing by defining a clear market.
- You can leverage content marketing, direct advertising, and marketing automation.
- You can build a marketing and sales system to streamline the heck out of your sales process.
- You can anchor the benefits/results against the rates (because the price is fixed).
- You can leverage the way you deliver the service by building templates, checklist, and processes.
- You can build in-house tools to help you with the delivery.
- Overall, you just created a really specific IP (intellectual property)
Your positioning statement - How to choose a niche
Before going any further, if you want to sell from your website and be seen as an expert, you need to niche down and define a strong positioning statement.
I like to use a strong positioning statement following this framework from Jonathan Stark:
I help X with Y through Z. Unlike my competitors, ...
- X is your Target Market.
- Y is the Expensive Problem that you solve. (Think about business outcomes like more sales & more time.)
- Z is your Discipline.
- I help realtors get more leads with Facebook ads.
- I help Shopify store owners get more clients with email marketing.
It instantly makes you more attractive towards your target market and people will remember it.
It will create “referable moments” By stating it clearly, people will instantly think about you and be able to refer you to someone who might need what you have to offer.
Better yet, niching down will simplify immensely your marketing efforts.
You’ll know who you talk to, what do you help them with and can think about where do this people spend time.
Now, before jumping into what might seem a great niche, it's time to ask yourself a few questions:
- Do you like them?
- Do you have empathy for them?
- Do they have money to spend?
- Where do they spend time, do you want to spend time there?If you want to work only online, local bakeries probably won’t cut it!
These questions are extremely important if you want to be happy consulting. Try to cheat at business by choosing a niche that has money, that you enjoy working with, that you know where they hang out...
Now that we defined a strong positioning, we can finally think about communicating what we do to our prospective client.
How to write an effective sales page?
Now, it’s time to write a sales page for you initial service offering.
If you want to sell online, from your website, you need to create long-form sales copy for your offers.
A portfolio and a list of what you can do won’t cut it.
You need to think like a direct response copywriter and talk to your prospect, address his pain and show that you understand him or her.
Your positioning will really help here as you talk to a specific target market who wants a specific outcome and suffer some specific pains.
Remember, you sell an ISO - Initial Service Offering (a roadmap, not a full project), for someone who actually knows he has a problem (don’t try to persuade he has a problem) as he learned it through your Lead Magnet.
Long form sales copy isn’t an easy task, it's an extremely valuable craft. Even if you don't nail it perfectly first time, you can always adjust it with the new questions and data you gather from your leads and clients.
And the mere fact that you'll write it will separate you from traditional freelancer with their brochure and portfolio's websites. Don't be afraid, do it, ask for feedback, adjust, and be proud!
I have a good news for you though, direct response copywriters know that structure is important and by following the structure below, you'll make your copywriting life so much easier.
The credit for this structure is due to: Jonathan Stark, Jane Portman, Sean D’Souza & Amy Hoy.
- 1st CTA
- Overcome Objections
- Social Proof
- 2nd CTA
The most important are the first 4 (though you’ll probably sell thanks to numbers 5 and 6).
This is the description of the problem of your ideal client. You need to be empathetic and relate to his situation and to show that you understand him.
This is the dream situation for your ideal client. What does he want, how does he want to feel?
This is where you explain how to go from pain to dream. Your offer is the bridge between these two situations. You need to describe precisely what you’ll provide, how you’ll work together, what he will get and what are the prices. You can anchor the price against the value that the offer provides.
What do you want them to do? Purchase, apply, schedule a call? You just put a button with the call to action.
Use FAQs from current customers or from people who read the first version of your page. You make every question they had clear.
Client testimonials, logos, … Use them to do the selling.
What makes you different than the other solutions, the competition? Use it here and state it clearly.
Give the reader a 2nd chance to take action with a button (apply, purchase, schedule).
Add some sorts of urgency (real urgency) to push towards a decision. (3 new clients per month only, the price increases at date X…)
You have a strong structure to follow to create a sales page for your initial service offering or your productized services.
It’s an asset that does the selling for you 24/7 (like everything you learn on this guide)
Here are some examples of great sales pages: (check them out later)
How to get someone to buy ?
At this point, your ideal situation is to get someone to make a purchase from your website. In reality, what you should do is push people to interact with you, answer one of your emails and you propose a 10-15-minute phone call to answer his question and eventually pitch an initial engagement.
You want to automate and streamline this part. When people apply for a free phone conversation, they should (automatically):
- Receive a preparation questionnaire
- Receive a link to schedule the call
- Receive a small onboarding sequence to get ready for the call and learn more about you
- Then jump on the call.
Now that the sales system is in place, it’s time to build you most important asset...
The Consultant Lead Magnet
A Lead Magnet or Freebie Offering is a FREE piece that you give in exchange for an email address. The value it delivers attracts your ideal customers towards you and helps the prospective buyer self-diagnose a problem.
The people we target might not know they need you, but they are part of your target market and your long initial goal is to educate them on all the possibilities.
You don’t want to only attract people who have an urgent problem, you want to attract people in your target market and show them what tomorrow could be like.
If you help them discover they have a problem, you’ll more easily be part of the solution.
The Freebie offering can take any number of shapes:
- FREE Educational Course
- Video Demo
- Cheat sheet
Now, I truly believe that the best for most of the people are FREE Educational Course and Video Demo (automated webinar are amazing as well, but are way harder to put in place).
Why do I think that these are superior?
If you sell high ticket services, you need to build trust and educate your prospective client on your IP (Intellectual Property)/Specialization.
You build trust with repetitions and consistency, effectively imitating what you would do in the offline world.
FREE Educational Course delivered every day by email = It mimics the sales cycle with multiple touch points
Demo = You show exactly what your offer is, how it works and how it can help as you would during a trade show, a conference or during a visit.
Webinar = Online Seminar, instant authority and if someone watches you during 60-90 minutes demonstrating, answering questions and educating, you build trust rapidly.
The others are like shortcuts. They are inconsistent with the next step (the purchasing decision) and therefore could get you emails but without the logical next step.
Why do you want to build a great Lead Magnet?
That is where technology and the Internet make the marketing interesting and funny. You can give an enormous amount of value automatically and at scale on the other person timeline.
See, every day when someone visits your websites and opts in for your email course, you get to teach him valuable things. You send new lessons daily, no matter what you are doing or where you are... automatically.
Whether 1, 10, 100 visitors sign up for this Lead Magnet, the system handles it all.
And from a business perspective, it makes a lot of sense for you, because an effective Lead Magnet does a lot of work on your behalf:
- It attracts great Leads
- It educates them and gets them ready to work with you
- It builds trust automatically
- It demonstrates authority
- It pitches your offerings 24/7 and automatically
Oh, and better. You don’t need every people who get the lessons to work with you (you probably could not handle them anyway), but with more qualified leads you get to pick better clients.
You also create an engine where you potential luck surface area (the people that can refer your business) isn’t just your past clients but everybody that read or got value from you.
With just 1 sign up per day, you get 350 people educated per year, knowing what you do and each with their own network. It compounds massively and quickly.
An effective Lead Magnet is one of the best assets you can create for your business:
- Work hard once and then let the system do its job (asset)
- Improve it overtime with the questions from the subscribers and clients (feedback loop)
- Every time someone joins, it gets more valuable (network effect)
If you want more details on how to build your Lead Magnet, you can find more information on a previous article I’ve written. (Open in a new window and save for later.)
At this stage, we’ve built your primary funnel...
Your secondary funnel
An unknown visitor gets hooked by your freebie offering, educated and pitched on your initial service offering, automatically and at scale.
You’re way better off than 99% of the service providers...
But why do I say it is your primary funnel?
Because according to the legendary Marketer Dean Jackson:
“A recent lead conversion study found some interesting stats about people who make contact with a company for information and what happens when they do. The study found that just over half of the people who inquire about something will buy what they inquire about within the next 18 months. The study found that only 15% of them will buy in the first 90 days, leaving 85% of the buyers in the “more than 90 days? Category.
The problem with that is most business owners don’t have the patience, or a system, to follow up with leads who are not going to buy right now…and consider the leads who don’t buy now “bad” leads, or ’tire kickers”.
What it means to you, you built a sales funnel for the 15% who might invest in the initial 90 days.
It’s time to build your secondary sales funnel to follow up nicely, softly and consistently with the 85% who are not ready.
The most elegant and simple way to do that is to start an Evergreen Newsletter.
You build a weekly piece of content around your area of expertise, or better answering questions from your audience (you ask simple questions at the end of your email and get the subjects for your content marketing).
You add these pieces of content into an automated newsletter sequence that all your subscribers go through.
Doing that, you can slowly create an arsenal of content that you leverage in three different forms:
- It helps with SEO
- You share it on social media to bring social traffic
- You add it to your newsletter sequence and it slowly builds itself into a 6,12,24, 50, 100 weeks automated follow up.
This evergreen newsletter is your secondary funnel. It’s soft, non-salesy and keep on educating, following up and building trust with your subscribers.
At this point they might:
- Buy from you when they are ready
- Share your articles on social media
- Refer you to someone who needs someone like you
Even if the 99% of the people in your audience never become client, they are your most valuable assets and advocates.
Selling services, you don’t need nor can afford 100s of clients anyway…
I hope you get why building an audience is one of the most important and antifragile ways to improve your consulting business!
Now that you built an engine, it’s time to bring people to your ecosystem…
How to bring prospective clients into your sales funnel?
Before exploring the different traffic sources, let’s make a few things clear.
You don’t need 1’000s of people joining your funnel. You sell services and a few qualified leads are probably all you need every month.
The system is evergreen and will be built on over time. One subscriber a day is slow until it compounds.
Not every person needs to be a great lead nor ready to buy directly, they will get educated automatically and be a source of referrals.
Not everything is done online, the offline world can be leveraged by pushing to your funnel.
Your job now is to do a great job and bring people to the system.
Four groups of traffic:
Whenever you go to an offline seminar, a networking event or simply meet someone, you could ask someone if they would join a free course about what you’re doing that you just released. It is not pushy but will build up over time.
You’ll also gain real knowledge when people might not understand what you do and explain it better.
Borrowing an audience
The best way to get people to your Lead Magnet is to borrow an existing audience. Where does your ideal client hang out online or offline?
You could give a presentation to your local meetup, chamber of commerce or coworking and pitch your Lead Magnet as a follow-up of the course.
You could partner with a business that has the same target market but doesn’t provide the same services and partner by giving a free course or presentation to this audience.
You could guest post or guest podcast for someone with a similar audience or for a specialized website with your audience.
You could spend time on forums, Facebook groups, Slack Channels and help first then redirect towards your Lead Magnet
You need to look at your website as an educational center and not as a blog. You create content that is evergreen and help people.
You need to leverage your content by promoting your Lead Magnet at the end of the article/the video.
You want to create content that helps your ideal buyer making a purchasing decision. Create cases studies, answer specific questions and be helpful.
Content Marketing (Blog, Video, Podcast) is done once and there forever, selling 24/7. Every piece of content is an asset that will help today and in one year as long as you create evergreen content.
- This content will slowly help with SEO and you will be ranked higher on search engines
- This content can be promoted on your various social media
- This content can be pushed with paid advertising
- This content will be an evergreen newsletter
Paid advertising should never be done without a sales funnel in place. You don’t want to spend money without knowing where your numbers go.
- You can bring intent buyers to your landing page with Google Adwords
- You can bring indirect leads to read your content with Facebook ads and promote your Lead Magnet at the end of each article/video
- You can retarget every visitor that visited your website but didn’t sign up for your Lead Magnet with Facebook retargeting or Google remarketing (it’s a low-hanging fruit that makes all the difference)
The summary of a consultant sales funnel
- We bring Traffic from different channels: offline networking, seminars, referrals, written and video content, conferences, borrowed audience or paid traffic and retargeted paid traffic.
- We promote our Lead Magnet to this traffic. It is a free email course or a video demo that will educate, build trust, show your expertise and pitch.
- We promote the initial service offering of our Value Ladder. It is a productized offering, likely an audit, report or roadmap.
- We build a System to Follow up automatically with every lead with an evergreen newsletter and with past clients for referrals, upsells or testimonials.
The initial part is going to be mostly manual and will take time. But once you go past this intense labor, the system will grow by itself and will slowly, then more rapidly become your most valuable asset.
Your job will be to bring people to the top of your sales funnel and let the great system you put in place help you close deals.