lockcoinsI’ve been enriching the wallets of hair colorists for my entire adult life. My hair has been brunette, auburn, red and fifty shades of blond.
If you’ve been following me awhile you know I’m not into fashion but, of necessity, I picked up a lot of info about hair color. One lesson sticks with me.

It was a long time ago and my hair was supposed to be a sort of ash blond. Then my regular colorist died. He wasn’t very old and we were all shocked. But the salon had its heart in the right place.

“Never fear,” they said. “We have his book of formulas.”

They applied the formula he had written down in his little black book. And my hair turned a shade of dark brown, so deep I could have joined the cast of the Addams family as Morticia. It was ugly. Even the salon people were speechless. The next day at work, people kept asking, “What happened to your hair?”

My brand new hair stylist explained. “Colorists guard their formulas,” she said. “So he would write everything down but he might have left something out so nobody could copy it. For instance, he might have added a drop of black to a formula.”

Later I learned that these guys were just paranoid. A good colorist will match your currentt color or come close; if they can’t start without a formula, you should just walk out.

Believe it or not, there’s a parallel with online marketing gurus, formulas and advice.

We all promise to share secrets, and sometimes you will find tips that are truly unique. More often you’ll hear variations of the same advice.

You know the drill. Maintain a social media presence. Post to your blog. Publish an ezine. Write out your niche statement.

But if you look around, you will see that lots of people skip these steps and still flourish with ease. Other people struggle mightily, checking off all the boxes, and never see results.

The truth is, we need the secret ingredient. I’m not saying the gurus and mentors are lying or holding back. They’re usually sincere. But they’re often not aware of that missing ingredient that spells the difference between a mess and a million.

Possibility #1: A unique combo of luck and insight. You stumble into a hungry niche because you’re uniquely qualified to offer a product. Or you recognize that you can offer something the market wants and nobody else has figured it out.

Possibility #2: A skill set that adapts easily to any marketing environment. With a background in sales, you could sell heating systems to Florida homeowners in July. You instinctively know what buttons to push and you enjoy every minute.

Possibility #3: You fell into a pot of jam, figuratively speaking. You ran into someone who loved what you were doing, used your service and promoted your services as if you were a miracle worker. (You made sure you had lots of disclaimers in the fine print.)

So how do you get your own secret ingredient?

1 – Don’t invest time or money in tactics (the how-tos) till you’ve got a strategy (the who-to). In other words, make sure you’ve got a viable market: people who are hungry for what you offer. They view you as the main course, not an appetizer and definitely not dessert.

2 – Get some traction going, on your own or with low-cost advice. When someone says, “I was doing a steady $500 a month and then my mentor got me to $5000,” you shouldn’t be surprised.

If you can sustain a regular stream of income – however small – there’s a good chance you’re on to something. If you’ve got some months at $50 and some at $5000, you’ve got a steeper challenge.

Some people are now referring to gaining traction as finding your tribe. I like that phrase myself.

3 – Chances are if you don’t have a tribe with traction, you haven’t identified a hungry market and/or your market sees you as a snack: something to tide them over till they get to the main course or something they nibble on between meals, even if they know they shouldn’t.

You can find your tribe (i.e., get some traction) when you’ve identified a group of people who
– need what you offer
– believe they will be a LOT better off after they buy what you offer
– come together at meetings offline (e.g., Meetups) or online (forums and groups)
– talk about what they get (so you’re more likely to get referrals)
– don’t expect your services to be free
– can be reached as a group with a definable market strategy.

You need to find your own sweet spot. That’s your secret ingredient. Without that spot, you can have the best, most expensive guru in the world and nothing will happen. Occasionally a guru will suggest a direction or market for you, hopefully before you enter on a long, high-priced, high-powered mentoring relationship.

For example, my first website targeted career changers. They don’t hang together and they rarely admit they hired a career coach. But they buy books online, especially on Amazon. (After all, many of them can’t afford to be seen hovering around the Career section of their local bookstores, especially in a small town.) I’ve earned significant revenue from people who found me via book reviews.

Alternatively, you can combine your life experiences with research. Alexis Dawes has made a pile of money by capitalizing on her own woes. When her bank closed her checking accounts, she wrote a short ebook about how to get a bank account when you’re on the “bad guy” list.

She’s written a book that explains the concept of a hungry market and goes into great detali about how you can find your own hungry market. I printed out the book and it’s now dog-eared and still use it today. Her system has been designed for to sell ebooks but you can use the principles to test your own market. So before plopping down $997 (or $9997) for a mentoring program, consider investing just $97 in her book, Reach Desperate Buyers.

A third angle is to start writing your sales letters before you jump into a market with both feet. Yes, write the sales letter before you’ve gone through an intensive “find your niche” or a “find your brand” program. You can get lots of help with your sales letter, which gives you valuable skills no matter where you end up; if nothing else, you’ll be a wiser consumer.

There are lots of ways to learn how to write a sales letter. You can start with this one from Jeanette Cates – The One Hour Sales Letter. Another good source is Maria Veloso’s book on web copywriting, Web Copy That Sells.
One client was considering working with a mentor on one of those $20K a year programs. “They started with nothing,” she said wistfully, “and in just six months they were heading the charts.”

And then she discovered they, too, had a secret ingredient.