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FT 067: Build Authority in Your Consulting Niche with Jane Portman

Jane Portman started out as a creative director at a large agency. But when her first son was born, she decided to start targeting clients in the United States from her home in Russia and focus in on UI/UX. She started over as another designer on Odesk charging $20-$30 per hour for small projects, but went on to building herself into an authority and winning much higher paying projects.

Jane shares the story of her transition into consulting and provides wonderful examples of how she positioned herself as an authority in UI/UX. She also shares a remarkable wealth of resources to help others make the same transition.

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Jane shares with us:

How to build authority:
Jane has her own blog, created webinars, and produces her own podcast. Marketing is a very real investment into her business to get client work. Jane breaks down her working hours into 70-80% content production and marketing, and 20-30% client work. For Jane, spending this much time on marketing and creating free content generates good karma, publicity, and authority.

The strategy of writing a book:
In total, Jane has now written three books, the latest being The UI Audit. After writing her first book, she has learned to target a very specific audience and build a product for that audience, rather than writing to a general audience or targeting several audiences at once.

“Focusing on one will make your life easier” - Jane Portman

Jane is actually working on targeting a new market right now. She is doing the research to familiarize herself with how the companies in her target market operate, their problems, and how they solve their problems. She is in the process of reaching out to influencers in the niche who she found by listening to podcasts about that niche and finding their forums online.

Jane didn't write books to make a profit from the books themselves. She wrote books to position herself as an expert. If you want to learn more about this idea, you can also listen to Rob Kosberg's episode on Freelance Transformation.

The other and equally important reason that Jane writes books is to use the books as icebreakers. When she was writing, she was able to introduce herself to experts in the field under the guise of interviewing them, thus expanding her personal network. Jane also sends her books to potential clients rather than giving them a resume or portfolio.

The ideal sales funnel would be for people to buy the book (or receive a free copy from Jane), read it, then contact Jane to do the project because they know she is an expert. That's not really the case. More often, clients tend to come from referrals. But referrals are an indirect result of the books. The books got her name out there, expanded the number of people who know about her, and helped her get other gigs, such as speaking at conferences.

The strategy of speaking at conferences:
Jane's books also gave her the authority to pitch large conferences and get speaking engagements. The first conference she went to and got a 5 minutes speaking engagement at was Double Your Freelancing Conference Europe in 2014. Then she went to Microconf in Las Vegas in 2014 and hasn't stopped since. This summer, you can find Jane at BaconBizConf, Double Your Freelancing Conference Europe, and LTVConf.

If we pause for a moment here and remember that Jane is in Russia while the conferences are in Europe and the United States, we can see how much of a commitment it is for Jane to go to these conferences. This is a big deal for her, and a big expense. But if she is to target people outside of Russia, Jane has found that conferences are a great way to meet new people and make friends. It's not about making direct sales, it's about building social capital. Then referrals will come to you down the line.

How to make the transition to productized consulting:
If you already have expertise in a technical skill such as design, coding, writing, photography, etc, the next step is to move from the grunt work of moving pixels around in Photoshop, for example, to consulting. The transition from grunt to consultant is a story that is repeatedly told on Freelance Transformation and this is certainly what Jane did as well. And lucky for us, Jane gave out one of the most comprehensive lists to guide other people who are making the transition too. Check out the resources below as well as Jane's own content guide.

The moral of the story is if you want to make the transition and be successful, you need to invest in your education. It's about having an investment mindset. In addition to your technical skill, you need to invest in learning the business skills needed to manage your own business and understand how other businesses are structured so you can successfully sell to them. Your education can be in the form of books, conferences, courses, mentoring, or podcasting (hint hint!) to name a few.

But why productized consulting?
Productized consulting means selling consulting packages for a fixed price. You are directly selling your expertise and your ability to apply that expertise to your client's situation.

Jane has found that she can charge by the project rather than by the hour, which gives her much more financial incentive to do the job well and efficiently and is much easier to anchor to value. She can also charge more and have quality clients who respect her. That's the secret behind how she spends only 20-30% of her time on client work and the rest on marketing. She is making more money for less time and getting paid and recognized for her expertise.

With higher quality clients and respect also comes financial security. Jane can charge more upfront to cover potential pitfalls. Of course, she always tries to over deliver for the money as well so the client comes out more excited than they started.

So how do you get clients?
After all the outreach, content marketing, and referrals, the potential client ends up on Jane's sales page. This is where Jane needs to overcome the objections that a potential client might have. Most potential clients aren't sure how much it will cost, what the scope of the project will be, what they actually need, or whether you are the person to do it. The sales page is where you outline exactly what you do for their money and you help alleviate their fear.

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