Another Argument for Making the Switch from Generalist to Niche Translator

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This topic is nothing new. But at the same time, I keep coming across translators who resist making the shift to a niche market or specialization. I understand. I did the same thing for a while when I first started out as a translator. You want to take just about anything that a client will send your way, because it helps your bottom line while you gain experience. Soon enough, though, you'll reach a point when the generalist translator life doesn't feel so pleasant. Why? Because many times, these general jobs are one-offs. Clients come to you, ask you to complete a task, you do, and then you never hear from them again. If you're lucky, you'll have a few clients who send semi-regular work in general areas, but none of these allow you to be really specialized in any one area or serve any one market really, really well.

Then issue becomes, how do we know when to stop taking all of those general jobs and make the shift from generalist to niche? I have some thoughts on this, and I've broken them down into three questions to ask yourself.

Question 1: Who is your ideal client?

This may be the hardest question you'll have to ask yourself if you're still marking yourself as a generalist. That's why it's first on the list!

If you don't know who your ideal client is, then how can you possibly market your services effectively to anyone? I recently had my T&I Website Blueprint Course students create Ideal Client Profiles before they even started to work on writing new web copy or designing their websites. Why is this vital to get right? Because, quite frankly, you need to know who you're talking to if you're going to market to them effectively.

If you tell me that you don't need to know who your ideal client is to market your services well, then I would ask, "Then, who are you marketing to in the generalist market?" I would be willing to bet that the answer does not come all that easily. If you cannot clearly explain who you work with or the work you do, then you are probably trying to appeal to too large of an audience. And this can be both confusing to clients and even off-putting. After all, no one is truly a jack of all trades.

When someone outside our industry asks you who your clients are, what do you tell them? Please don't say "Anyone who needs a translation in (insert your language pair)." PLEASE. When you say things like this, you make your job sound a) easy and b) like you are willing to take any job that is sent your way. This type of response, while maybe fine for you, doesn't exactly make the rest of your colleagues look very good. Successful professional translators spend years honing their craft in specific fields for a reason.

For more on this topic, check out How to Determine and Attract Your Ideal Client and How to Create an Ideal Client Profile to Market Your T&I Services.

Question 2: Do you want to raise your rates over time/in the future?

If so, then you cannot continue to be a generalist forever. You could try, but can you imagine how wide the net you cast will have to be? If you narrow down your niche, you can focus on a market that pays well and that needs solid translators like you.

In addition, you can market to clients who have repeat work. Let go of those one-off projects that come and go, leaving you in a feast or famine state. Sure, you can tell me, "But I like the general projects, and I get them frequently." Well, yes, we all get these requests. And they're fine "filler" projects for the times that we aren't busy, but I would argue that they aren't exactly sustainable for the long term. You simply cannot project where a general market will go. But with a niche market, you have a better chance of watching market trends and making long-term projections.

Take my specialization, for example. I am a medical and life sciences translator. I love my niche, and not just because of the subject matter. I also really like knowing that clinical trials last for years (years!), so I will undoubtedly have ongoing work for at least a year when I take on a new client that is a Clinical Research Organization (CRO) or whose client is one. This kind of peace of mind is very valuable to me. I have worked on some trials for a minimum of three years for the same drug. This is the kind of work that allows me to be very specialized and to learn subject matter well so that I can translate at a faster rate.

For more thoughts about rates and pricing, check out How to Stop Competing on Price As a Translator or Interpreter.

Question 3: If you constantly take on general work, how can you improve in any one area?

Remember what I tell my blog readers and students all the time: When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. Don't try to take on all the projects. Be selective, and keep an open mindset. More projects will come your way in that niche area if you take the time to nurture your client relationships!

For more ideas on ways to nurture client relationships, check out More is Not Better When it Comes to Your T&I Client List.

I’ll leave you with an example from one of my T&I Website Blueprint Course students. She started the course with a very firm belief that she was a generalist. And by the time she finished working on her Ideal Client Profiles (she has two types), she realized, "Wait! I have two solid specializations, and they are both in high demand!" YES. Now, when she markets her services, she knows exactly who she's talking to and how to appeal to them.

Take the time to discover your niche areas, give them some attention and fight the urge to take on every project that is sent your way. Even within your niche area, you may find that there are certain in-demand projects you aren't willing to take on. Here's an example from my own work. I don't take on projects from my medical and life sciences clients that contain large amounts of handwritten text. I can't stand these projects. I am so slow at translating them. And I simply cannot read some of the handwriting well unless it's pretty close to flawless. If you've ever seen a doctor's handwriting, you know that this is often not the case! So, even though I know I can charge more for these types of jobs, I turn them down. Why? Because I don't need to please everyone. I can be selective, and it's proven to be very beneficial to me. I refer a colleague who handles these jobs well, and I can take on more of the work I'm good at and work at a relatively fast pace. The efficiency in my work alone is a testament to earning better money by working this way.

Okay, now you tell me… what are your thoughts on remaining a generalist vs. niching down?

How to Create Good Marketing Habits for Your Translation or Interpreting Business

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I recently starting listening to more audiobooks to give my eyes a rest after long workdays and to keep my mind active when tidying up the house or while I'm out for a run. One book that has me thinking a lot lately is Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear. There are so many "golden nuggets" of wisdom in this book, but there is one quote that really stood out to me.


“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

We all have the best intentions, Clear explains in his book. Many of us also love to set goals for ourselves and for our businesses (I'm raising my hand!). But if we don't also set ourselves up for success by building good habits and systems, then how can we expect to reach these goals? If we were to reach them, it would certainly take much longer without good habits.

He suggests taking small actions so that we can make our big goals more doable and feel like less of a chore. Marketing in a consistent way is the perfect place to start building good habits in our businesses. But it can be overwhelming. That's why, a lot of times, we end up procrastinating instead. Or we spend more time than we'd like to admit not marketing our businesses only to realize that we have made little progress, or worse, we've earned less income than a previous year.

Of course, we know that if we don't market our businesses in some way and on an ongoing basis, then we run the risk of experiencing more times of famine than feast in the future. Sure, our clients might find us. Referrals and a solid web presence make that possible. But we cannot assume that relying on referrals or web traffic will give us a better result next year than they did this year. We can, however, assume that if we market our businesses effectively and consistently, then it is likely we'll have a result to show for it by the end of the year.

Taking small, manageable actions every day to market our businesses, is what will get us the traction and the results we seek. I have heard Ed Gandia, a business strategist and the host of the High-Income Business Writing Podcast, say more than once that even if we have a steady stream of client work, we should be actively and consistently marketing our freelance businesses. He suggests sending several warm emails every week, doing it first thing in the morning and being more concerned about the action of actually sending the emails than the responses we get from them. Because, in the end, the more we put ourselves out there, the higher our chances are of gaining new clients and building more solid business relationships. Seems pretty logical, right?

In addition to Ed's approach, I really like James Clear's suggestion of setting up a cue that triggers the action. The repeated action will, over time, form a good habit that allows you to achieve the results you want in your business. Of course, the opposite is also true. If we have cues that trigger an action that feeds a poor habit, then we will continue to get a poor result. For example, say our cue is delivering a project to a client. This cue then triggers the action of opening up a social media application because we have some time in between projects. We run the risk of forming a poor habit if we are using the social media application only to find ourselves falling down a rabbit hole of tweets, messages and shares. Instead, it would be more effective to use the time spent on the application to engage with clients and actively market our businesses.

Atomic Habits also made me realize all the cues and triggers we experience on a daily basis and what it could mean if we started to consciously and intentionally shape them. For example, a cue to start sending more of the warm emails Ed suggests could be as simple as this. Every morning when you make your coffee and sit down at your desk, open your computer and your email. You don't answer a single inbound message until you've sent a warm email to a prospective client. This allows you to move on with your day and know that you've already handled a marketing task before you even have the chance to get lost in a sea of emails.

Here's one of my own suggestions I'd like you to consider. Commit to spending 20 minutes a day on marketing your business to your clients. Whether that's 10 minutes of engaging on social media each morning and another 10 minutes spent crafting warm emails to potential clients (or following up with those who you've met at networking events, conferences, etc.), the effect of this small habit will certainly add up over time. Let's say you work eight hours a day, five days a week. By committing to 20 minutes a day, that still leaves you 460 minutes every day to handle the rest of your work. How's that for some perspective?

If you spent 20 minutes a day the way I just described, 5 days a week for 48 weeks out of the year, you would essentially engage with clients on social media for 2,400 valuable minutes and send 240 warm emails to prospective clients. I'd be shocked if you told me that this habit yielded few results. In addition to warm emails or engaging with clients on social media, you could use good habits with cues and triggers to sit down and write a blog post or an article to share on LinkedIn over the course of a week. The actual marketing you do depends on your audience, but you get the picture.

I realize this all sounds like logical, common-sense advice, and perhaps as though we just need a little willpower to make these things work. But I do believe it's more than simple willpower. After all, if it were easy, we wouldn't have people writing books on habits and systems. Many of us choose not to market our businesses for fear of rejection. Or because we are overwhelmed at the thought of marketing. Or because we simply don't know where to start. And instead of taking action in spite of rejection, or finding ways to reduce the overwhelm, or learning ways to market our businesses effectively, we often find ourselves simply using these issues as obstacles. We make excuses. These are obstacles that we have essentially created for ourselves. We all do this in some area of our businesses. So, let's commit to changing that by rising to the level of a few newfound habits and systems to achieve the results we want to see in our businesses.

How to Provide Added Value to Your T&I Clients and Build Lasting Relationships

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If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you probably know that I talk about this topic a lot. And whenever I come across anyone who is resistant to the idea of providing extra value to clients beyond that of the services we already provide as translators/ interpreters, I seem to get the same response. They usually say something along the lines of, "I don't know what kind of value my clients might want." And typically, my answer is, "You know more than you think!"

There are a lot of ways to offer value to your clients beyond the T&I services you already provide. And for some of us who work in language pairs that can have a somewhat saturated market, this is essential! We have to stand out. And to anyone who says, "I don't need to provide any more value than the services I already offer," to that I ask, "Then, what makes you different than any other translator/interpreter who provides the same service?" I know that seems a bit harsh. But if we don't start thinking about the value we provide, both as part of the services we provide and in addition to them, then we may very quickly feel like the market is taking over and we're floundering to raise our rates or find better clients. Everyone is selling something these days. So, it's important to be seen as different. Yes, this is one of those cases in which being different is a good thing!

Of course the translations and interpretations we provide to our clients are incredibly valuable. But they are often thought of as a service that is requested, completed and billed. End of discussion. So, how do we provide even better value so that our clients consider us an integral part of their larger team? How do we keep them coming back to us time and again? Surely, a large part of being valued is due to the services we provide. But it's never just about that. After all, if it were just about the service, our clients would all be shopping around for the least expensive option, right? Who wouldn't be?! So, there has to be something more. By providing more value than other options (i.e. other translators/interpreters in your language pair(s) and area(s) of specialization), we also give our clients more reason to stick with us for the long term.

By building relationships with our clients, we learn how to provide them even more value. We learn how we can serve them best. We learn what their challenges are and how we can help to relieve some of their stresses and challenges. But it doesn't happen overnight. There are plenty of ways to serve our clients in ways other than translation/interpreting that make us even more valuable in their eyes. If you are struggling to come up with some ideas, my best advice is to listen to your clients. Talk to them. Get to know them better so that you can understand the obstacles they face and the goals they have. Then, figure out how you can help them to overcome those obstacles and reach those goals.

When trying to think of additional ways to provide value, first consider your strengths, both as a professional, and in general. 

● Are you a great socializer/connector? Do you know a lot of people and can you connect your clients to others who could help them along in their business/goals? This is valuable.

● Are you an amazing researcher? What can you research or provide that shows even further value to your clients over another translator/interpreter who may not have this superpower? This is valuable.

● Are you a great writer? Can you write for the industry(ies) in which you provide your services so that you can both show your expertise and provide value in another related capacity? This is valuable.

● Are you a wonderful speaker? Could you start speaking at events and conferences that are related to your area(s) of expertise? Not only can you provide knowledge and value to others, but you will soon make even more connections that can open more doors for you! This is valuable.

Notice that none of these suggestions above have anything to do with making a hard sell. That's really not the point here. Providing added value is what allows others to like, know and trust you. From there, people will want to do business with you!

Whatever you do choose to do to provide more value, own it! Don't be shy. Tell people about it. Others will want to help you by connecting you to those they know and who could use your services or gain from the value you are sharing. Here are some ways to spread the word about your added value that will allow you to also shine as an expert translator/interpreter.

● Write a blog post or an article for LinkedIn and send it to your clients' inboxes. Try to do this regularly and watch how much you can engage your target audience.

● Think of what challenges your clients face and try to come up with some clever solutions. Since you know the industries for which you work, something like a guide or tip sheet that could be helpful to your clients in some way is an idea that comes to mind.

● Offer some extras here and there to show that you think more deeply about your clients' projects than just shooting back a translated text. I don't suggest you work for free, but sometimes it's the small and unexpected things we do that people notice the most.

The more you think about the added value you can provide to your clients, the more you will be able to keep their best interests in mind. Your clients will appreciate you even more than they already do. The possibilities here are endless. If you always try to come from a place of serving your clients, the rest will fall into place. You don't have to be salesperson of the year. You just have to think outside the box.

The Free Project Management Tool You Need for Your Translation or Interpreting Business

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Whether you are a freelancer or a small business owner, you always want to make sure you have systems in place that run efficiently in your business. When your systems work well, you have more time to focus on what you do best, and this means more time for billable hours, too. One of the most essential systems in running a translation or interpreting business is the one in which you manage all of your tasks and projects. I'm not talking only about client projects, but also those projects that don't necessarily bring in any revenue, like invoicing, planning a marketing strategy, preparing social media posts, writing blog posts, reaching out to prospective clients, planning days, you name it.

I first presented about this free tool at the American Translators Association annual conference in New Orleans (October 2018), and those who attended my session were very excited to learn about it. The audience was made up of a range of professionals, from freelancers to agency owners and committee volunteers to chapter presidents. I was blown away by the number of people who thanked me for suggesting this tool to them. Some of them even downloaded the Asana app right after the session!

Introducing… Asana.

Before I made the switch to Asana, I was using a few different tools to keep everything organized in my business. It didn't seem like a complicated system at the time. It did the job, but I didn't realize how much more organized we could be by keeping everything all in one place until we found Asana. I'd tried several of the project management tools that are meant for T&I businesses, but I found that none of them can do all that we need them to do. And as I don't have the budget to create a custom project management system at this time, I have found Asana to be a truly dynamic and easy-to-use tool both for myself and for my team. I also use Asana to organize my own freelance and volunteer projects. It's so dynamic!

And do you want to know the absolute best part?! It is free. That's right. I don't pay a dime to use it and I can add as many people as I would like to a project within my organization. It is free for them, too! Even if you are a solopreneur and have no plans to hire anyone for your business, this project management tool will change the way you do business for the better. It will keep you organized and planning things from start to finish. It will help you with your workflow and really give you the full picture when it comes to long-term goals and planning.

Here's a view of my Dashboard when I first open Asana in my web browser.

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All of your projects are organized however you like, but what I love is that you can color code them and move them around however you like whenever you need. Besides the Dashboard view, you can easily access all of your projects in the left-hand sidebar by scrolling down. Here's an example of how I organize my blog posts for the blog you're reading right now!

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We use Asana to keep track of our client projects, as well as inquiries we get from prospective clients who might not yet be ready to hire us for a project.

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You can set up a template for the projects you tend to have the same steps for over and over. We've done this with our prospective client and current client pipelines (like the one you see above), and it couldn't be easier. No reinventing the wheel for each inquiry you receive!

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Asana also integrates with so many programs that we already use to keep files organized, like Google Drive, Dropbox, etc. We are able to email tasks to ourselves that will show up in Asana, use the app on our smartphones to add tasks and respond to items in the conversations feature, and so much more. And I just found out that I can also turn handwritten notes into tasks and get Siri to add tasks for me on my iPhone. What?!

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I've already told you that we organize the projects we have to do as teams, but I also have projects for which I am the only "team member" (things like administrative tasks, reminders about making tax payments, completing payroll, etc.). Here is a screenshot of a few tasks that would only show up in my own administrative projects view. I'm able to set deadlines and assign them to myself so that I receive a reminder notification on the day they're due.

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If you're someone who likes to be able to see a full calendar view of your tasks (as well as those of anyone you may add to your projects), you can switch to the Calendar View very easily.

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Or you can see everything in a List view, if you prefer.

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There is also an Asana app for Smartphone users, so I can access projects and files from my phone if I'm traveling, running errands or just out of the office. And I can even add tasks to projects straight from my email that will show up in this tool whenever I want.

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Now, I'll be honest and tell you that Asana isn't the most intuitive program to use at first. But! If you stick with it, you will find that it is worth learning how to use it properly. I personally didn't have a lot of time to learn how to use the tool through trial and error, so I did a little research and found an online course that breaks down exactly how to set up your Asana account for your business. This class is the best. I was able to set up my Asana account to be the workhorse for my business. My project managers are also in love with Asana now. And no, that's not an exaggeration.

If you are interested in setting up an organizational system like this for yourself and/or for a team you work with in your T&I business (even if it's just for you and your accountant!), I highly recommend you check out Megan Minns' course Asana HQ. Truly, it is worth taking the course so that you can see the full capacity of Asana and all of its free features. I learned so many things about how to use Asana that I would have had no idea about had it not been for this course. Megan gives tips and tricks that you likely wouldn't be able to figure out just from signing up with a free account and tinkering around in the program.

If you're not sure how Asana can work for you, I would suggest just watching this video and seeing if this type of organizational system would help you in your business. Even if you are a freelancer who usually works as a solopreneur, using Asana to get your operations and client management down pat will make you so much more efficient. Asana can get your processes and workflows so organized, you'll feel like a new person. Again, not an exaggeration. Besides, you may not work alone forever, and if you have everything set up this way already, it will be easy to bring on someone else in the future!

(I have no affiliation with Asana, and I use the free version! So, this is an honest review. I love it that much.)

How to Use a Call to Action to Market Your Freelance Translation or Interpreting Business

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A Call to Action, often abbreviated as "CTA" in the marketing and business world, is defined by HubSpot as "an image or line of text that prompts your visitors, leads, and customers to take action. It is, quite literally, a 'call' to take an 'action.'" You can see them on websites for just about any product these days, and service-based businesses are really starting to see the benefits of using them, too. Anytime you see a request to sign up for something, share information or pass along a link, you are being called to take an action by the business or organization whose site you're visiting.

Now, you may not immediately see how a call to action could benefit you in your freelance business. I get it. I used to think that way. It can be uncomfortable to sell or market our services, but as business owners, we have to. So, we might as well do it well, right? I realized that what a good friend once told me is quite true: "Everyone is selling something these days. We just have to be ourselves and be authentic with how we share it." So true.

Most of us with a website hope that our site visitors will see something that makes them want to hire us for an upcoming project or assignment, right? Of course. So, it's not really unheard of to ask a prospective client to do something these days when they land on our websites. Even if they're not yet ready to send us a project, we know that they could be one day. And so, we want to hold on to their information if we can. We want to have a way to be able to reach out to them to start a conversation and to nurture the potential client/provider relationship if there is one to be had, right? Yes. So, how do we create an authentic call to action as freelance translators and interpreters that doesn't make us feel like a used car salesman?

First, we have to be clear on what we want our site visitors to do. People like to be told what to do next on a website. Besides making sure your website's navigation is incredibly user-friendly, it is important to make a specific CTA so that anyone who is looking for more information knows what to do next.

Here are a few examples from freelance writers in whose CTAs are both authentic and provide value. If you ask me, that's the magic formula to any solid CTA that brings results.

This first example asks a single question and gives the reader some possible answers that could match what they're looking for. Each answer has a hyperlink that leads to a page where they can find out more about the writer's services.

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The next example is an offer the writer makes in exchange for a prospect's email address. She's giving value (Insider tips in your inbox every Thursday) in exchange for contact information. This is a great way to build an email list and is worth considering.

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And finally, this last example is a call to action to buy the writer's new book. The call to action is front and center on her website. And it's very clear what the site visitor should do next.

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Each of these examples is from a freelance writer who specializes in a different area of expertise. None of them are in-your-face salesy in my opinion. And all of them provide value in their own way.

Now that you've seen some great examples from other freelance service providers who also work with words for a living, you may be thinking, "What kind of CTA could I use on my website to bring about results and provide value to potential customers?"

Well, first you have to really know your audience and what they are willing to do and tolerate. If your target market is used to seeing pop-up ads asking them for their email address to receive a monthly newsletter, you could try that. But my guess is that most of us work for clients who are not fans of unexpected pop-ups. I know I personally dislike them, so it would feel very inauthentic for me to use one.

Instead, I would prefer to share something with them in exchange for their information. Something that not only gives the prospective client some valuable information (a win for them!), but it allows me to capture their information with the assumption that they may one day have interest in working with me (a win for me!). A mutually beneficial relationship and a well-planned CTA are more likely to work, and there are many ways you could start a relationship with a prospective client by having a solid CTA that still feels authentic to you and is transparent for your clients.

If you are considering adding a CTA to your website, I would encourage you to get creative with it! If you are a court interpreter, you could provide something that you know your legal clients would particularly find useful. If you are a translator who prefers to work with agencies, you could do the same thing by knowing what a project manager might find helpful. Before you create your CTA, ask yourself these questions.

● Do you prefer to work for direct clients, agencies, both? Many of us work for both direct clients and agencies, which are two very different audiences. It might be worthwhile to think of separate CTAs for these audiences, or you could settle on just one that is attractive for both. You could get creative with it, or you could go for the simple (but still effective), "Should we connect?" button that leads to your Contact page. Whatever you do, make sure the CTA fits your audience and their needs.

● What do you want your site visitors to do when they land on your website? This is probably the most obvious -- and also the most important -- question to ask yourself. Do you want to capture someone's email address so you can follow up with them? Do you want them to call you to discuss their next project? Do you want to send them to your blog to read some of your original content that shows off your expertise? CTAs don't have to be fancy. They just have to work. So, if all you want is for someone to click to another page of your website to learn more about you, then make this clear and obvious.

● How can you give them what they want quickly and seamlessly? As I already mentioned, clear navigation is vital for any website. But so is a clear and seamless CTA. If possible, try to place your CTA above the fold (i.e., visible from the moment one lands on the web page before having to scroll down to read more). If you have a link you want someone to click on to read more or to contact you, make sure the CTA is in a prominent place on your website. After all, the amount of time you have to capture someone's attention is very short, so make good use of the space (and time!).

So, how do you strategically use a CTA to gain more work? The key to converting prospective clients is showing your value first and foremost. Think about serving before selling. I always try to provide value before making a sale. I want my clients to trust me and to trust that I know what I'm doing. So, you will never see me ask them for something up front without giving them something even better in return. Try to think like this anytime you create a CTA for your website. If you simply want to have a conversation with a prospective client, then frame your CTA around setting up a call with them to discuss their project or answer their questions.. When you talk to them, provide valuable information that they could use even if they decide later to hire someone else.

A good call to action will provide value and eventually lead to a sale. Of course, it may take time to reach the sale, but this is also true of many networking and sales strategies.

And finally, if I can leave you with one bit of advice about CTAs and value, it is this: Always overdeliver. On my small agency website, we provide value by offering our new e-book to those who wish to join our mailing list.

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We email clients once a month with information about the T&I industry that is applicable to them, and we also share our own news, blog posts, etc. In exchange, we offer them a free copy of our new e-book. We have taken a lot of time to put this together, and we know the information in it is useful. Perhaps next year we will change the CTA to something else, but for now, this one works quite well and prospective clients receive something valuable right from the start, as well as every month in their inboxes.

Hopefully by now I've convinced you that having a CTA is a useful marketing strategy. It doesn't have to feel slimy or “salesy”. It's smart. And you can do it in a way that still feels authentic to you and captures your website visitors so that you can start to grow a business relationship with them.