It’s the most wonderful time of the year. (Ask any parent.) (Or Alice Cooper.)

It’s also time for SPM blogging to kick back into high gear.

But as I sat before the Almighty Whiteboard, multi-colored markers in hand, ready to create the editorial calendar for the next few months, a thought occurred to me …

Why am I not asking you guys what you want to see here?

So. That’s EXACTLY what I’m doing. Right here, right now.  (Or, right here, right now. As you prefer.)

My biggest small business marketing challenge is _____.

I want to know: What’s troubling you these days? What are you struggling most with in terms of marketing your small or solo business? What do you need more information on?

And how can I help?

SO: Go to the comments section below and let me know! I’ll use any and all suggestions (as long as they’re relevant to digital marketing for small/solo businesses) in planning upcoming content.

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Bloodhound dog draped in wrapping paperStory time, kids. Gather ’round.

So back in the day, well before the Category 5 shit-storm that destroyed my legal career, before I had evolved into the marketing pro I am today, I tried to launch a solo business as a lawyer.

Mind you, I’d never marketed my own business before, except as an actor, and that was well before the days of the web. When you’re the thing being marketed … well, it’s different.

I had been blogging for a few years, though, so I was perhaps more familiar with the technology than most newcomers.

So I hired a designer to create a custom WordPress theme, set up my site, and then promptly … sat back and stared at the screen.

For days.

I had no idea what to put up there.

Oh sure, I had enough sense to know that what I wanted to do was called content marketing, and that this meant I needed  – y’know, content. And I knew this content should be targeted to my prospective clients.

I knew I could write – it’s always been the thing that comes most easily to me. (Well, that, and sarcasm. And watching TV, but I guess that comes easily to most everyone.)

So, I asked myself, “Self, what do these prospective clients of ours need from us?”

And then, my friends, I sat down and wrote. I mean I wrote, people. I wrote a lot. I wrote over 20,000 words within a week or so.

Then I sat back – again – and stared at the screen – again.

And thought, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

They were good words, mind you. Proper spelling, good grammar, with headings and subheadings and keywords. (Oh, my.)

But something was wrong.  Well, maybe not wrong, per se, but definitely … off.

So I got out of the chair – my ass was numb by this point – and I went about my non-business business. I drove my kid to school. I shopped for groceries. I walked the dog.

This was the morose ‘80’s musical montage part of our story.

And throughout it all, I kept asking myself the same question, over and over again.

“What do they need?”

Wash a dish. “What do they need?”

Put gas in the car. “What do they need?”

Take a shower. “What do they need?”

And then, my friends, it hit me. The proverbial bolt out of the blue. The metaphorical light bulb switching on.

It hit me like the proverbial ton of metaphorical freakin’ bricks.

I was asking the wrong damned question all along.

The $64,000 question wasn’t “What do they need?” at all.

It was “What do they think they need?”

All my expertise and know-better was worth pretty much bupkus. It was so much puffed-up Greek, or may as well have been, to those prospective clients.

It wasn’t wrong.

It wasn’t inaccurate.

It certainly wasn’t badly written.

It wasn’t even inapplicable or irrelevant. Not by a long shot.

It just wasn’t what they thought they needed.

So I regrouped. I started thinking about that question. I thought about those prospective clients in a whole new way. They stopped being one big nameless, faceless mass of unknown individual humans. They became specific people. The assistant manager of the grocery store I frequented whose wife was on bedrest with her fourth pregnancy. The woman who lived next door with her disabled husband. My kid’s second-grade teacher, who was struggling to pay back her student loans.

I thought about those specific people, and then I thought about what kept them up at nights. I thought about what made them wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat – and what they typed into Google’s little box, hoping against hope they’d find something out there in the digital ether that would make them feel better.

I thought, in short, about what they thought they needed – not what I knew (or “knew”) they needed.

Then I went back, revised much of what I’d written earlier. And I wrote other things, all in response to that question.

And within two months, I was seeing measurable and fairly consistent results. People called. People set up consultations. People hired me.

(Also, within six months, I was ranking higher for short-tail keywords – short tail, mind you – than the applicable courts’ sites in my state.  But that’s another post altogether.)

Moral of the story, kids: You have to connect with your prospects where they say – where they want to meet you – not where you want to meet them.

This is part of July’s Word Carnival – stories for small business owners by small business owners & bloggers. This month’s theme: “Marketing without Marketing.” Check out all our carnies on the digital fairway here.

Photo Credit: SuperFantastic via photopin cc

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