Why I don’t like marketing funnels…
You don’t need a funnel for a successful solopreneur business.
Many solopreneurs are being indoctrinated by digital marketers who sell them on the idea that they need a sales/marketing “funnel”.
A typical funnel works like this:
- You see an Ad (for example on Facebook or Instagram), or receive an email, and it’s about a wonderful “free” thing… free video series, email course, or an intriguing quiz.
- You can only get that “free” thing by giving them your email address. This is known as “the opt-in.”
- You’ll get a series of emails giving you “value” in the form of free advice or teachings, but what you don’t realize is that it’s all designed to “indoctrinate” you. They want you to buy a specific thing they’re going to sell you soon.
- You then get an email that brings you to a sales webpage (usually quite long!) or sometimes you’re invited to a “free” webinar that tries to sell you on the thing they were intending for you to buy, from the very beginning. The original intention was hidden from you until now.
- You then get cleverly-written email reminders until you buy. It might include scarcity tactics (“Buy in the next 2 hours to get this amazing bonus!”)
The idea of a “funnel” is to squeeze or manipulate people through a cleverly designed persuasion process.
There are many variations of this. You might see an innocent “5 day challenge” to change your life, which then puts you into a Facebook group that is designed to build excitement for you to buy their program.
Or it might be a long webinar that is cleverly-designed to hook you into buying. Sometimes the webinar appears to be just in time for you! What they don’t reveal is that the webinar is auto-playing (they should just call it a video!) and they only make it appear as if it is an event.
These funnels can also include “tripwires” (low-price products that trigger a system to upsell you further), or score-based targeting (if you don’t buy it, they’ll follow up X number of times until you do)… and other forceful tactics.
(Unfortunately, tripwire marketing is actually a thing. The term “tripwire” comes from hunting or war: when the prey or enemy unknowingly goes across the tripwire, some process will activate to capture the prey/enemy! What an unfortunate way to think about our audience.)
The traffic and conversion funnel idea is based on persuasion psychology, where they teach ideas of “indoctrination”, scarcity, and the power of manipulating people with FOMO (the fear of missing out.) It is an analytical-control mindset of dealing with people… the opposite of a heart-based relationship with your audience.
With funnel obsession, you see your audience as minds to “capture”… and if they don’t turn into clients or sales, they are taking up unnecessary resources. These non-buyers are considered to be “leaks in the funnel”.
You are taught to force your audience through a carefully contrived system of messaging and buying, as if they are lemmings… all supposedly for “their own good”.
These complex funnel teachings are turning us into profit-driven automatons, and squeezing the heart out of business.
Is this really how we want to relate to other people?
Does this kind of strategy align with our values?
What if we instead relate to our audience as precious souls, whom we seek to connect with, uplift, and help?
What if we keep our “sales funnel” (if you still want to use that language) as simple and transparent as possible?
As solopreneurs, we need less complexity in our business… and a lot more heart. This sets us apart from corporate, soul-less marketing.
Instead of a funnel mindset, here is a simple transformational pathway you might use:
- Consistent free content — be authentic, generous and helpful.
- Low price offerings — help them via DIY offerings
- Higher price offerings — for those who can afford and benefit from hand holding / more personal contact with you.
Bottom Line: let it feel genuine to you, and generous to your audience.
1. Consistent Free Content
Authentic Content Marketing is what I teach and do my best to model.
Stop seeing your free content as a “teaser” or sales tool or part of a long funnel… otherwise it can end up in discouragement & resentment.
Free content can get you more clients, but don’t focus on the sale.
Instead, see your free content as a cause, a ministry, a passion of your business to educate and uplift as many people as you can reach.
By creating content, you’re also helping yourself get smarter much faster than if you were stingy about it. You’d rather give yourself consistent practice in teaching, writing, speaking.
Through social media, you’ll be getting feedback about what’s working and what’s not. You’ll receive feedback more often than if you hid away your content in paid products.
Your increasingly-better free content will also attract your ideal clients to you.
2. Low Price Offerings
Ideas for low price offerings include:
- $5–10 e-book
- $10-$30 one-hour online workshop
- $30-$100 online course
Let your audience know about these low-price offerings regularly, interspersed with your rhythm of free content.
If you are just starting your business, I would recommend higher-price offerings first, for your own financial sustainability, as well as having deeper 1–1 contact with your clients.
3. Higher Price Offerings
These can include your 1–1 services, or small group programs.
Occasionally invite your audience to your higher price offerings. Be gentle and allow them time to decide, without trying to persuade them.
If there’s a true deadline to sign up for a program, follow-up with a few courtesy reminders… not trying to convince and convert. People who are ready-and-willing need only to be reminded, not strong-armed.
Aim to be so authentic and gentle in your marketing — and consistent — that over time, your audience will contact you about your services and products.
The biggest fans of your content will inquire about your offerings, hoping you will say “Yes, you can be my client!” My business gradually arrived at this stage. In a period of 24 months (2014–2016) of doing authentic content marketing, my 1–1 client roster became gradually full. Since 2016, there has consistently been a waiting list.
Instead of designing a funnel that looks like it’s generous, but has the ulterior motive of selling, keep your intentions pure with your audience.
If you want to sell something, just sell it. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t bait-and-switch.
What was supposed to be a whole-hearted generous “free” thing gets corrupted when it ends up in a sales funnel.
Avoid manipulation. Choose instead to strengthen genuine trust, loyalty, and organic word of mouth, which is the true result when you do authentic marketing.
Let each person decide to buy at their own pace. Don’t try to persuade.
Bless and let go. Gift your content from the heart, then let go of attachment and notice how liberating it is to serve wholeheartedly.
You’ll notice that, over time, it brings great benefit to your business, too.
By nurturing a healthier relationship with your audience that expands gratitude, it creates real value for everyone, including you.
(Article was first written in 2018. Updated in 2020.)