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Selling Your Services Online: How to Differentiate Your Business and Stand Out

Today’s your day. Why? Because you’ve got a plan. You’ve tied up your loose ends and cleared your calendar to dedicate the whole day to marketing your business and selling your services. Over the past few months, you’ve put in the time and effort to differentiate yourself and your business so you can land not just new clients, but great new clients. Now it’s time to make it happen.

Then your phone rings. It’s your biggest client, and they need something ASAP. You drop everything, get the client request sorted out, and by lunchtime, you’re back on track. But uh-oh: Now, one of your colleagues has a few questions that only you can answer. Then, your client calls back with some changes. Before you know it, the day’s over.

Once again, you planned to spend the day working on your business, but you got sucked into working in it instead. It’s not uncommon: In our 2022 Mailchimp & Co Benchmark Report, we surveyed more than 2,000 agencies and freelancers, and both groups said that lacking time for new business development was an ongoing issue. Revenue didn’t appear to make a difference, either. Working on day-to-day operations at the expense of building the business was reported as the biggest challenge for both agencies generating more than $1 million in revenue and those generating less.

With all those operational challenges, many agencies and freelancers say that they find it hard to devote enough time for growth: To make their business stand out and sell their services more effectively.

Despite an acute awareness of this problem, too few actually get help: Only 12% of responding agency professionals said they’d brought in someone to assist with their marketing last year. Don’t despair if you don’t have that luxury because you’re short on cash or you can’t find someone competent in time. The good news is that there are lots of effective, efficient ways that can help you get your name out there, sell your services, and take your business to the next level.


If you’re just learning how to run a consulting business, know that the old adage is still true: It’s about who you know. Respondents to this year’s Benchmark Report made one thing abundantly clear: When it comes to new business, referrals rule. An impressive 48% of responding freelancers listed referrals from existing clients as the most effective way to win new business. (The next closest, at 14%, was networking—a topic we’ll return to later).

There are, of course, different kinds of referrals, and the numbers were revealing here as well: When we asked freelancers what types of referrals they found most effective, a much smaller group cited referrals from agencies and fellow freelancers (5%), referrals from a partner program (3%), or from vendors (1%). Agencies reported similar numbers: Like freelancers, 48% said client referrals were the most effective, while referrals from other vendors (7%), other agencies and freelancers (5%), and from partner programs (4%) saw less support.

In other words, if you aren’t getting referrals from existing clients, you may be missing out on a huge opportunity to sell your services. To get the referrals machine working for you, consider developing a cohesive plan that you can test, tweak, and repeat with all your clients. Be selective about who you ask, request the referral when things are going well, and take no for an answer—you may end up losing a good client rather than winning a new one if you push too hard.


Now that we’ve covered referrals, let’s get into what surveyed agencies and freelancers identified as the second-most effective way of selling your services and winning new business: Networking.

Thankfully, the old cliches about networking—an awkward meet-up with strangers at a musty conference center—are a thing of the past. Networking today is much more complex and rewarding—and usually way more fun, too. Building and cultivating a professional network takes some work, but it can pay both direct and indirect dividends. In contrast to asking for referrals, networking isn’t about chasing down a specific result; it’s about investing time and resources into potential outcomes. And just like investing, you need to approach it strategically.

Here are a few pointers to consider:

Stay on the lookout

When played right, networking is a long game. While you may meet someone and see an opportunity to work together, it’s just as likely—or even more so—that the potential to do it is somewhere further down the road. Your new contact could eventually become a regular client, a business partner, or just an old friend you can lean on for advice. Treat networking as a regular part of your business operations, and you can build up your network and develop relationships that could pay off when you need them most.

Pitch in

A robust network of colleagues and peers can help build your business while you’re taking on other tasks, but don’t forget: The relationships you develop are a two-way street. Jump at the opportunity to lend a hand to others in your network, and they’ll be more inclined to return the favor. And don’t balk at the chance to mentor those just getting into the industry, either. Helping others who need it most can be uniquely fulfilling—and just like your other relationships—there’s no telling how paying it forward may one day pay you back.

Ask others

For some people, offering help to others comes naturally. Asking for it—especially among the hard-hustling entrepreneurial set—is another story. Try not to lose sight of the fact that getting help, like giving it, is one of the most important reasons to build a network in the first place. Whether it’s for a career question, insight into some work you’ve done, or—in keeping with the thrust of this article—for help marketing your business and selling your services, your network is there for you. If you’ve cultivated a strong network, asking for help is not an imposition. You’ve earned it.

Make friends with Mailchimp

Mailchimp partners don’t just get access to tools; they become part of a community. With a dedicated Slack workspace, Mailchimp partners can collaborate with other Mailchimp devotees and share industry news, next-level marketing strategy, leads, and more. This exclusive workspace brings our global community to you, so you don’t have to wait for meet-and-greets or networking events. Start laying the foundation you need to help you grow your network once you earn partner status.

Speaking engagements

When you’re thinking about how to market yourself, participating in speaking events and marketing conferences is a must. They’re not only great places for attendees to sharpen their skills and gain insight into what’s new, they’re also incredible opportunities for you to differentiate yourself, sell your services, and market your business—if you’re a charismatic and compelling public speaker with a message.

Speaking at a conference can help elevate your brand and business by putting you in front of a captive audience that’s already invested in what you have to say. A speaking engagement is a seemingly rare opportunity in today’s world—it’s the chance to educate, inspire, and entertain, to go deep into topics with nuance and narrative in front of people that care.

Do it well, and you and your business can be top of mind for those attendees long after they’ve gone home. And that could translate into new business opportunities. How? Read on.

Start small

Before getting started, you may wonder how to find speaking engagements. As with anything, start small. Just like when you were starting your marketing career, you need to walk before you run. Is there a local event you could sign up for? Or could you host your own? Small events like this allow you to sharpen your skills and get comfortable being an expert in the room. Don’t forget to reach out to your network, either—put the message out that you’d like to start booking speaking engagements, and you may just land one.

Nail your material

If you’re presenting yourself as an expert, you need to know your stuff. Speak on a subject that you have a deep knowledge of, that you can authoritatively speak on, and that your business is involved in. Draw on your experience and ensure the audience has a concrete takeaway. Like you, they’re there to develop their skill set and expand their knowledge base. Rather than giving them a lecture, deliver the goods, and do it in an engaging, polished manner. Tell a story.

Don’t be shy

People came to listen to what you have to say, but they also came to see you. When you’re up on stage, people don’t just see that session’s speaker; they see an authority on the subject at hand. You need to justify that belief, so tell them about yourself, your experience, and the highs and, yes, even the lows of your business. You should be as approachable as you are knowledgeable. And let them know how they can connect with you afterward, too.

Understand your audience

We’ve all heard the expression “read the room,” and you should—even before you get on stage. While your expertise is always the same, your focus should change based on your audience and environment. If you’re speaking at a conference on email marketing, technical terms like CRM, click rates, and segmentation might go over great. If you’re at an event with a less specific focus—like the challenges that small businesses face, for instance—those technical terms might come off as impenetrable jargon.

Practice, practice, practice

Your parents and teachers were right: Practice makes perfect. Write out your talk even if you're planning on reading from notes, run through them (and yes, do it in front of a mirror or record yourself). Experiment with delivery, timing, and emphasis. That network you’ve been cultivating? Tap into it: Ask friends and colleagues for their candid feedback, then use it to improve your presentation. With practice, your final presentation draft should become better than your first, maximizing your chance of success—and a second speaking engagement.

Summing it all up

Referrals. Networking. Speaking engagements. At the end of the day, they’re all tools that can help you sell your services, differentiate your business, and develop an edge over the competition—one that will help free you up to think about where to take your business next.

With Mailchimp & Co, you’ll get access to tools, tips, and training that are designed to help elevate your business from day one. And if you work your way up to partner status, you’ll unlock benefits that can really supercharge your career, including additional resources, financial rewards, priority support, and access to a community of experts like you.

We’d love to have you join the community. Signing up is fast, easy, and free.

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