How to sell yourself

PLEASE NOTE: the following post contains some swearing, in places where I found it necessary. If you’re offended by swearing and would rather not subject your mind to such things, then I strongly suggest you a) stay inside the house for quite some time until the novelty wears off for everyone (the novelty of swearing, not the novelty of you staying inside the house for years, although that is very novel) and b) do not read this post past this paragraph. If you are offended by swearing and read this post past this paragraph anyway, even though that’s a very silly thing to do, then you email me to tell me I shouldn’t have published this post, then I’m not going to respond to your email. Or I might, but I’ll probably swear.

Nowadays, everything you write has a double-meaning, and even a simple blog post about marketing and selling yourself can be misinterpreted, making you wish you’d been born in a time when sarcasm was a novelty, rather than an epidemic. So, just to be crystal clear, if your profession is prostitute then reading this post is unlikely to explain to you why you can’t get any work (I say unlikely, but the internet is a very big place and all kinds of people seem to end up here — someone found it the other day by typing in the unfortunate phrase manky penis, for example — so, who knows, you just might be a veteran hooker whose starting out selling baked-goods and giving up the game, in which case you may find some helpful tips below, maybe). If you’re in any other business, though, the following might be of interest.

This blog is about the mistakes that people make when trying to sell themselves professionally. There I go again. What I mean is, it’s about people who are offering a service – wait! – and are going door-to-door with leaflets. Or people who are selling online. Or selling anywhere, for that matter.

Because, just to the right of my keyboard as I type this is yet another flyer from a tree services company. Allow me to explain…

Fuck me is the first expression that comes to mind. Yes, I swore in words and I don’t even care — the mark of a true blogger, writing on his personal blog where, for once, he is also the editor (and no, I don’t swear when I am writing for other people, with the exception of when they say it’s appropriate or necessary, which is not very often). I use this expression here not to try and shock, but because, very simply, it’s the best and most accurate expression to be used. Like I’m sure many atheist and even naughty religious freelancers do, I say the words Fuck Me probably half-a-dozen times a day, for a wide variety of reasons. No jokes, please, and let’s not be smutty — I’m talking about when something annoys me, and only those two words together seem to do. One of those reasons might be when our dog snatches my Birthday card off the table and chews it into un-recognition, and I only discover this when it’s much too late, and I can hardly blame her, can I, because it was all my fault for leaving it there, and the other reasons, well, you know: you forget something critically important which then triggers a chain of annoying events which delay you further and make your work day one hour longer. Or you over-cook your pasta. Things like that.

Anyway, today I said that expression for the first time when a man appeared outside my ground-floor office window. He had that curiously vague way about him where he was there for a purpose, and so rang the front-door bell, but didn’t seem to be sure of what that purpose really was. From my chair, looking in the mirror to the right and above my desk, I could see that he was wearing a dark green and yellow all-in-one suit, which then gave the game away. When he rang the bell again, I said the aforementioned phrase-of-despair once more. I knew as I went to the door that I was about to be confronted by a man who was selling tree-pruning, lopping and various other services. Which, as I will explain, was irritating.


If you’re going to try and be amusing, at least use spellcheck first. Otherwise you’ll be amusing and look like an absolute idiot

On marketing websites and in numerous other places, both online and off, the mythical they say you have just seconds to catch the attention of someone you are trying to sell to. The man I opened the door to looked uncomfortable or indifferent and had clearly taken this advice to heart: within mere seconds of my opening the door he was facing away from me, not really looking at me, and then he opened his mouth and said “you need any trees cutting.” Lacking any question mark, it took me a second or two to realise he was actually trying to sell me something. That maybe, just maybe, he had a mortgage to pay and this was what he did to pay it (unbelievable as that seemed at the time). The problem was…that was his fourth or fifth or six mistake, so by the time I saw him holding the leaflet out, I wasn’t interested, I was feeling a little bit grim towards door-to-door humanity. Not that I was interested before that, I mean – as I told the guy, we only had 3 trees out the back and every single week 3 or 4 companies vied to cut them or lop them, whatever the hell that actually means – but I was especially not interested now. In fact, I felt a bit offended. Yeah, I was never going to take the leaflet, and yeah, he was the worst person to send out to sell anything to anyone door-to-door ever, but it would at least have been nice if he’d not looked at me like I had I’M A MASSIVE RAPIST! tattooed across my forehead.

The weird thing was that, at this point, even after telling him we didn’t and wouldn’t need any of his company’s services – politely and accurately, mind you – I was still willing to give the man a second chance. I thought If he can tell me why we should have one of our 3 trees lopped or pruned or chopped down, I might say Yes, just for the hell of it. I’d have been happy with anything, really. “Because two trees is the optimum number of trees to have in a back garden,” would have done it, I reckon, but “you need to because your trees may be diseased with a dangerous alien bacteria that may well get inside your lungs and kill you within days,” would have really done the trick.

Not that I should be condoning that kind of illegal behaviour from tree service companies. It’s just, well, I wanted the guy to liven up and at least seem like he had a passion for something, even if it was being illegal.

So I looked at him. Come on, I thought. Seriously. Now’s your chance. Besides that, I’ve got children’s toys to write about so I haven’t got all bloody day. Do something. Make this worth my time.

What happened next was marginally offensive, looking at this from a marketing and sales point-of-view. Instead of telling me one good reason why we ought to even consider using them in the future, he just stared at me blankly. And tried to pass me the leaflet. No words came out of his mouth. I suppose when you’ve handed over about ten-thousand leaflets or flyers, your hand just does this without you knowing. Obviously I didn’t take it. If the bloke can’t even give me one good vocal reason why I ought to consider him or his firm, then I’m not going to waste my bloody time hanging about on my own cold door-step. Fact!

So that was his second major mistake, or maybe his tenth or nineteenth, I’d lost count of these by now: if you’re going to sell anything at all to anybody, no matter what it is, you need to speak the hell up. You don’t need to shout or be a weirdo, but you do need to actually care about what you are doing. If you don’t, nobody else will. With one exception: if you were to suddenly break down and fall on the ground and start moaning “woe is me! I hate my job! I want to become a dentist! I will become a dentist!” I might start to care a bit. Because at least that’d be something. When you’re selling, even desperation and crying and tragic sadness is better than nothing, you know.

That was almost the end of the shockingly-inept-tree-services-man-incident, but later, going back to the door to see if there was any post – which there wasn’t – I was to be proven wrong about the man. Yes he’d been clueless, but there, caught in the letter-box, was a white leaflet with green lettering. “You…you sneaky tree service man!” I said. “Well, it worked. I am going to bloody well read it.”

And read it I did. Being a copywriter and freelance writer, what I held in my hands here was nothing less than amateur gold. There I stood, braving the draught of the open door-way, gazing at the leaflet flyer thing, and actually, if I am honest, it was quite good. It definitely hadn’t been professionally conceived or written, but that didn’t matter, because there were quite a few things about the leaflet that really got it right. They’d used thick-ish card, for instance, and the quality was alright, too.

The first main thing was the typeface. I could read it easily. That’s absolutely crucial but still something some people manage to totally fuck up. If you start out with a typeface or font that nobody can read and even the person who invented it truly doesn’t know what it meant when they had the idea for it, this is very bad (hello to you wingdings). Bold and green, it was alright. The only issue was the number of different fonts that had been used, which made it look a bit confusing. I counted five in all, which, in my opinion, if that’s worth anything, was at least 3 too many.

Something else the tree people had got right – and this they usually didn’t, I’d seen enough to know – was the amount of white space. There was a fair bit of it between the lines and the words and it worked quite well. The use of logos and pictures was also under control, which made a nice change. From a design point-of-view, you do want to show that you’re creative, but at the same time, you don’t want to come across as a child who can’t draw for shit and who really loves trees.

There were two more things which immediately stood out. The first was the 10% DISCOUNT THIS MONTH across the middle of the flyer. This was in white writing on the same formulaic dark green background and did stand out. Additionally, the phone numbers were in bold white on dark green and there was even a 24 HOUR EMERGENCY CALLOUT NUMBER, along with street name of the business. Not bad. I was semi-impressed.

But it wasn’t all good. And this isn’t just me being picky. In fact, the eagle-eyed among you may already have picked the following up.

First up, although it said 10% DISCOUNT THIS MONTH, it didn’t state the actual month or year concerned. A minor thing, really, but in 4 months time when we finally decide that one of our 3 trees badly needs lopping – I’l have Googled what it means by then, maybe – I don’t want to call up whoever it is — there was also no name on the card — and be told that they were only doing it in December 2012. By then, I may have got confused about time, thanks to the crazy world of children’s toys I write about. By then, I may think that the leaflet had only recently come through the door. All that could have been avoided if they’d printed the month that the discount was valid for. That’s another thing to make note of: if you want people to buy from you, make it easy. As easy and simple as you possibly can.

Next up, we have the 24 HOUR EMERGENCY CALLOUT NUMBER, which I thought was a nice touch. Only problem is, I know precisely jack shit about trees and emergencies, so having it really didn’t help me much, and spun me into a kind of crazy daydream. So when I read this, I thought What, I should call them if a tree attacks me? which I assume wasn’t the response they were after. If they’d have given me a firm example of a tree-based emergency then it would have saved me panicking about being attacked by trees, such as in the film Evil Dead when a young woman is raped by a particularly savage one. Ugh. This is a common trap that businesses fall into, of course. They assume that everyone who reads their advert is as clued-up as them, and this inevitably leads to confusion. Just don’t do it.

The last thing which really could have been avoided was mucking-up the address. OK, they’d printed the street number and name, but they hadn’t put the town or the city where the firm was based. I couldn’t tell from the mobile or free phone number where they were located, either. Obviously, if I ever found out what a real tree emergency was then I’d like to know how long it’s going to take them to come and help me out. By then I could have been molested by numerous kinds of trees. You just never know, do you?

I’d love to say that this was all the flyer got wrong, but there were one or two more things. Obviously. Let’s focus on one: the bit that said Book Your Trees In For A Makeover NOW!

A makeover? I thought. Sorry…you mean, a makeover?! As in…an actual makeover? No. Just no.

I couldn’t help it, could I? I knew nothing of trees or lopping, so it was perfectly reasonable to imagine one of our 3 trees sitting in a kind of tree salon, having it’s branches done. It’s leaves waxed. It’s roots polished. This vision conjured-up a sensation of unsettling tree perversion which the flyer hadn’t prepared me for. And with that I was decided: this new fad of giving trees makeovers might be the next big thing, but I wasn’t going to allow any of our 3 trees to be subjected to it.

I still have no idea what the hell a Tree Makeover is. If they’d just given me an example of what this might entail then I’d never have had such a horrifying vision where the tree at the end of the garden was crying and feeling left-out because all the other trees in the village had had makeovers and she hadn’t. It really wasn’t nice.

So there we have it: if you don’t have a clue about writing or designing a leaflet, flyer or poster, do some research first. It makes sense. Not only will it give your customers a much better idea of what they can expect from using your services, but you’ll actually get people ringing you up and wanting to spend real money — instead of reading your leaflet, writing a blog post about it and then chucking it in the bin.