Many years ago I decided to have a go at the psychotherapist market in the UK. I jumped online and started researching related membership organisations to get a list of prospects.
24 hours later I had a list of 500.
My mother, who got her PhD at the age of 70 (it’s never too late to start anything) could now call herself Dr Pain – Psychotherapist (‘No Gain without Pain” etc.) and was the inspiration behind me going for this particular market.
She told us many hilarious stories including how, when a new client turned up in a tantrum, my mother responded by throwing her own, even louder, tantrum. Just like in the film Crocodile Dundee, the client’s problem was resolved on the spot and she went away “cured”.
I thought I knew this market from all those stories, so I wrote an epic 2 page introductory letter to my 500 prospects. This was sent by post and I hand wrote the addresses and used proper postage stamps for maximum opening power.
I have no idea how many were opened, but I do know I got it about as wrong as it’s possible to do.
I knew this NOT from the response to the letters, but from my follow up telephone calls to each prospect. Starting with “Hello, my name is Quentin Pain, and I recently sent you a letter introducing my services…”.
The response was unanimous: “Oh that was your letter. It went straight in the bin. I’m not interested in stories about your mum and how well aligned you might be to my business. You know nothing about me, so please stop wasting my time, and taking up even more of it on petty phone calls….”.
It was my first experience of how NOT to do patronisation. Of course they weren’t interested in my mum. Why should they be? All most of them wanted was a simple answer to their biggest two problems: a) how to get more clients, and b) how to make more money from each client (shocking I know).
This weekend I made the same mistake again. This time to a request from a single prospect thinking of joining the ICA.
They’d sent me an email explaining how they’d been studying copywriting 5 hours a day for the past month having read every book they could find, watched hours and hours of free video content, and even paid for some courses, yet despite all that, they still hadn’t found what they were looking for.
I spent an hour writing and editing a reply. I answered every question (but in detail, not with a simple yes or no). And I kicked it all off with something I say often to people “if you’re not willing to spend the rest of your life doing this, give up now.” a little harsh maybe, but important nevertheless.
I got back an immediate (and short) reply, which implied that not only had my opening sentence been seen before “elsewhere”, but as a result, they’d given up on reading any more of my “long-winded” reply.
Feeling somewhat hurt (one day I’ll take my own advice and learn how to do emotional intelligence 100% of the time) I wrote back apologising and explaining that since I didn’t know them, this was a good lesson in how to fail. I never heard back.
So to sum up, unless you know your audience, almost everything you write has little chance of making an impact. I forget this lesson so easily, it’s vital I get reminders like this every now and again to ram it back home.
There’s another lesson I alluded to above, but more about that here.
PS. This piece has been edited twice, but I’m still not satisfied with it. However, my deadline has been reached, so it’s going out anyway. This is part of my daily learning ritual in how to get things done.