Markdown is a simple formatting language developed by John Gruber as a simpler way to create HTML documents. It's become a ubiquitous part of the web and all kinds of sites are using it. In fact you may be using Markdown on some of your favorite sites and not even realize it. Sites like GitHub and StackOverflow use it to format user generated input such as comments, and apps like Middlemand and Jeckyl use it as the primary publishing format. Here at Remarq we turn Markdown into super high quality PDF documents. If you're curious why it's become so popular Brett Terpstra has written a great two-minute explanation.
What follows is a quick explanaion of HOW the basics of Markdown work. We'll look at all of the core features that any Markdown service should support. In a follow up article we'll see some of the special extensions to Markdown that we use here at Remarq.
Normal text is easy.
You just... type normal text. Like this!
OK, that was a gimmee.
Tweaking normal text
The easiest bits of Markdown are for tweaking normal text. If you want to
emphasize (or italicize) something you can just surround it in asterisks (
To bold it just use two (
**). Use three to combine emphasis and bolding.
||This text has emphasis.|
||This text is bold.|
||This text is emphasized and bold.|
Adding document structure
Beyond writing a short comment, you probably need to add a little more structure to your documents. The easiest way to do this is by adding some headings to break up the sections.
For headings you can start a line with one or more
# symbols. The
#s that you use corresponds to the heading level. So using
# is used for top level headings (or H1 from HTML or many word
processing programs). Two of them (
##) is an H2, etc…
This is an H1
This is an H2
This is an H3
Lists come in two varieties, unordered (bulleted) and ordered (numbered).
Use lines starting with asterisks (
*) to create unordered lists, and
lines starting with
#. to create numbered lists. You can also use actual
numbers instead of the
# symbol, but using the symbol allows Markdown to
automatically set the numbers on the items, so if you want to reorder the list
you just change the order, and don't have to worry about renumbering.
You can use indentation to nest lists inside of one another.
To break up sections of a document you may want to include a horizontal rule.
Three or more dashes on a line will do it. Instead of
- you could also use
To display a URL and have it turned into a link you can just surround it with pointy
>). To link some regular text you can surround the text in square
]) and then follow with a URL in parentheses.
The syntax for images is very similar to that for links. You just add an exclamation mark to the begining of the link, and then point the URL at an image.
A whole document
So, putting it all together a very basic Markdown document might look like this.
# Markdown is a great language There are *so* many things that make it **awesome**. Let me count the ways in which it is great. ## Easy Markdown is really just like plain text, so you don't need to know anything special at all to read it, and you only need to know a little bit to write it. ## Compact Markdown is pretty much all about the content, and it doesn't waste any bytes on styling or other fluff. ## Etc... There are too many ways to list in this short demo. :) # Resources Here are a few links about Markdown. * [Official Markdown Project](http://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/) * [Five Minutes to Markdown Mastery](/articles/five-minutes-to-markdown-mastery/) * [Why Markdown? A two-minute explanation](http://brettterpstra.com/2011/08/31/why-markdown-a-two-minute-explanation/) # Shameless Plug [Remarq](http://www.remarq.io) is the best way to generate professional quality documents from Markdown. ****** [Check out this very example formated as a high quality PDF with Remarq.](http://www.remarq.io/pdf/simple-demo.pdf) [![Remarq Report](http://www.remarq.io/images/report.png)](http://www.remarq.io/pdf/simple-demo.pdf)
And then when rendered it might look like this:
Markdown is a great language
There are so many things that make it awesome. Let me count the ways in which it is great.
Markdown is really just like plain text, so you don't need to know anything special at all to read it, and you only need to know a little bit to write it.
Markdown is pretty much all about the content, and it doesn't waste any bytes on styling or other fluff.
There are too many ways to list in this short demo. :)
Here are a few links about Markdown.
Remarq is the best way to generate professional quality documents from Markdown.
How do your clients and, most importantly, prospective clients build trust in you? A prospect's level of trust is directly related to their willingness to spend money for your services and choose you over lower-priced alternatives. And perhaps most importantly, more trust from a client makes it more likely they will take your advice and receive maximum benefit from that advice.
There are two avenues by which prospects gain trust in you:
- Time spent with you prior to money trading hands.
- External trust signals, many of which you actually control even though they involve third parties.
The first item on this list, time spent with you, is important. But that really comes into play after you've been in touch with a buyer. What about building your prospects' trust before you are in touch with them? Let's look at those external trust signals, which come into play before your prospects become buyers.
The primary trust signals your prospects will use when evaluating you include:
- Information about you that comes directly from people they know. Example: referrals and recommendations.
- Information about you that comes from an objective third party. Example: news items and testimonials, even on your own site or in your own materials.
- The status of the people you are seen hanging out with.
Some of the items on that list of trust signals is difficult to change. We all know the saying, "You're the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with," but even if that is true, most of us would not be willing to or readily able to start hanging out with different people in order to raise our own income.
However, you can easily change the rest of the items on the list above.
Referrals and Testimonials
Are you using client testimonials effectively in your marketing? There might be more opportunities than you think to make use of testimonials.
But first, how do you get testimonials? Here are some easy "testimonial hacks":
- While clients generally dislike writing testimonials, they tend to be much more open to approving testimonials that you have written for them. So whenever the opportunity presents itself, write something your client has said into a testimonial and ask them to approve it.
- Speaking of opportunities… always be on the lookout for opportunities to take your clients’ words and expand them into a testimonial. This can include things they've said in email, on phone calls, or during meetings.
While you don't want to festoon your marketing materials with testimonials, you do want to make sure they appear at the following key places at a minimum:
- Adjacent to any calls to action on your website
- At relevant points in any sales copy either online or on paper
Referrals often "just happen". And when they do, they are the gold standard of new client acquisition. They can turn into substantial amounts of new revenue with very little effort on your behalf.
So how do you get more referrals? It's not as out of your control as you might think! Think about it like cloud seeding, which is not 100% guaranteed, but when the conditions are right, it does increase the change of precipitation.
- How often are your past clients hearing from you? Is it often enough to stay top of mind? There is a broad range of ways to stay in touch with past clients, ranging from "in the neighborhood" visits to low touch email-based methods. Make sure you are "seeding the clouds" by staying in touch with past clients.
- How easy is it for past clients to "sell you" to referrals? Do they have more than a phone number to pass along? How about this as a high-value alternative: Set up a personalized landing page on your website for each of your past clients. A landing page is a page that doesn't appear in your site navigation; it has to be linked directly. Make the URL to this page something easy to remember, like http://yourdomain.com/BigCorp. That page is a case study of the work you did together, the beneficial results that came out of that work, and an easy way to get in touch with you to get similar results as the case study described.
- Flat-out ask. Here's some great advice on how to do that.
- Ask more often, via scheduled follow-up emails. You never know where your past clients' contacts are in the buying cycle, and asking repeatedly for referrals (in a low-key way) will increase your "hit rate". The last time you asked might yield nothing, but this time, perhaps a previous client has just had lunch with a colleague who mentioned needing that thing you do.
Objective Third-Party Information
Another source of third-party trust signals is "the news". We have to use quote marks around news because only a very small part of the content appearing in both traditional and online news media is carefully researched, fact-checked, highly objective information. The rest is somewhere between filler and contributed content.
But guess what? That contributed content gets the same implied authority as the actual news reporting. So if you'd like to crank up the level of intangible value you bring to your clients, contribute some content to the news!
Doing this is as easy as setting up a free Help a Reporter Out (HARO) subscription. Every day, you'll get two emails with topics that reporters want to write about. You can become a source for these stories by responding quickly. Pro tip: set up an email filter to just delete any HARO emails that don't have topics you can speak to. (hat tip to Kurt Elster!).
The other thing you must consider is being a guest on podcasts. Podcasts have many of the implied authority benefits of traditional news media, but most podcasts are actually labors of love with almost no budget. That means they are desperate for good content. This article will give you the lowdown on how to approach media sources, including podcasters.
Finding new ways to create value for your clients has a stunning number of positive effects on your consulting business.
Let's dig into how you can find new ways to create value for your clients.
We're going to stick to the intangible value here. There's tons out there on quantifiable value, but intangible value, that's worth spilling some ink about!
Let's start with some easy wins for your consulting business.
Turning Handoffs Into "Events"
What happens when you finish a consulting project? Do you organize everything, button up loose ends, and send a final celebratory email to client stakeholder(s) and declare Miller Time?
Or, do you take the opportunity to create an… event? We don't mean that you should jump out of a cake or provide an all-expenses paid getaway for the entire project team, but you could take the opportunity presented by the end of a project to:
- Bring the project stakeholders and key participants together, either in real life (IRL) or online.
- Talk about the project's successes and lessons learned.
- Highlight the benefits and positive results that are already visible thanks to the project.
- Point out the progress that has resulted from the project.
- Amp up the good feelings that everybody is hopefully having.
- Express gratitude for everybody's assistance with creating the project's results.
Compared to a handoff email, how would a 45-minute "project recap" meeting that includes those elements be received? And more importantly, how would it reflect on your intangible value as a consultant?
For a minimal time investment, it's well worth trying this out next time you wrap up a project. Over time, you'll change how clients view working with you… for the better!
Next-Level Handoff Value Ideas
Of course, you could extend this idea by spending a bit more money, though we're still talking about less than $500 in most cases:
- Organize a project wrap-up lunch where you foot the bill. This is less formal than the project wrap-up meeting mentioned above but more… delicious. Changing the setting from a conference room to a restaurant or catered event may also make it more memorable.
- Organize a launch party to celebrate the project. This could be an after hours event, and it could involve a lot more than just your client. It's an opportunity to show off the project results to others in your network, increasing their trust in your ability to deliver.
Taking the time to pause, look around, and take stock of a job well done really makes a statement in our amped-up world. While others are rushing onto the next item on the to-do list, a hand-off event gives everyone the opportunity to take a long look at the project and actually integrate their experience.
If you're a consultant, you–as Gerald Weinberg put it–are influencing people at their request. And if you are wanting to charge a premium price for that influence, you are certainly thinking about how you can create more value for your clients. Creating value for your clients is one of the keys to charging more for your work.
Creating more value actually has a stunning number of positive effects on your business that are not all related to your fees:
- Clients are willing to pay more for the results of your work.
- You get to work with clients that are more pleasant to deal with.
- Your social status increases, and both prospects and clients treat you with more respect and deference.
- Your perceived expertise increases (if you don't do anything to damage others' perception of your expertise).
- You often get to work on more interesting problems (because they call in the "big guns" for those).
- You get to be more selective about which clients and what work you take on.
It's Up To You
It's up to you to increase the value of what you do and to discover new ways to create value for your clients. Fortunately, there are lots of resources out there to help. For starters, you've got:
To better understand value, let's take a step back and think about it from a philosophical perspective.
More Than One Kind
If you look up “value” on Wikipedia, for example, you'll quickly see that there are all kinds of theories of value. That's good to know, but for our purposes here, we can just focus on the two different kinds of value:
- Quantifiable Value: the kind of hard numbers that show up in a checkbook, a company P&L statement, and so forth.
- Intangible Value: the kind of worth that you can't put a number or price tag on very easily.
We could talk about perceived value as well, but perceived value really applies equally to both quantifiable and intangible value. Perceived value has to do with your client's perception of either the quantifiable or intangible benefitsyou bring to them. Their perception of your value is more about how you educate them and market yourself than it is about whether they can easily quantify the value you create or not.
Quantifiable value is easy to… well… quantify. It's things like:
- 300 new customers per month x $2500 lifetime value (LTV) of those customers = $750,000 in added customer LTV
- 50 hours per month saved x 3 employees x $120/hour = $18,000 saved per month
Quantifiable value refers the hard facts. You either made money or lost money. You completed the project on time or you didn’t. It's pretty obvious stuff once you understand the concept, and everybody is talking about it in conversion rate optimization (CRO) and technical marketing circles.
Let's talk about something less well understood…
Intangible value is the elephant in the room during every discussion of value. This is where everybody tends to throw up their hands and say, "I don't know. How could we even measure that?"
But yet, intangible value is all around us, and it is very influential in our decision making. Intangible value is the defining difference in these situations and many others:
- Buying the "better built" car for a $20K premium
- Buying a Rolex watch
- Buying a Dodge truck instead of a Ford or Chevy
- Buying clothes at a boutique instead of at Target
The same principle applies to hiring consultants or freelancers. You'll hear the following things said of consultants with a higher intangible value:
- "They're the solid choice for this problem."
- "We have to have them."
- "They're expensive but…"
Delivering More Intangible Value: 33 Ways to Prove You’re Playing in the Big Leagues
Delivering more intangible value starts with understanding what creates that intangible value. While this is partly dependent on your line of business, there are certain things that increase intangible value across the board.
Since these leverage points can be subtle and tricky to pin down, we’re providing a list for you. Here are our best tips on savvy, concrete ways to convey to your clients that you’re providing premium services that they need
- 1 - Upscale social status signals, which include:
- 2 - Your dress
- 3 - Your body language
- 4 - Your verbal and written communication
- 5 - Your possessions (house, car, accessories, and the tools you use in your work)
- 6 - Your taste in things like literature, music, and art
- 7 - Creating a "whole package" experience for your clients. This might include:
- 8 - Making meetings into enjoyable "events" by bringing in in a popular speaker, having those meetings off site and footing the bill, etc.
- 9 - Having your assistant handle certain obligatory admin tasks for your client.
- 10 - Footing the bill on trivial expenses that would normally be shared by you and your client.
- 11 - Finding ways to do things your client will look forward to.
12 - Sending a hand-written thank-you note when a big project is complete
- 13 - A positive, upbeat summary of each week’s progress
- 14 - Send social trust signals:
- 15 - Testimonials from other reputable or high status people or companies
- 16 - Public appearances like speaking engagements
- 17 - Signal that your company is more "professional":
- 18 - Professional client-facing materials, including:
- 19 - Your website
- 20 - Your phone number & voicemail message
- 21 - Your printed brochure, press kit, and other printed materials
- 22 - Your branding package (logo, business card, letterhead if you still use that, etc.)
- 23 - The level of polish in your written communication, including removing typos and other errors
- 24 - Professional design & consistency for all your client-facing materials
- 25 - Everything else you send your clients, including:
- 26 - Proposals
- 27 - Reports
- 28 - Email domain name, formatting & signature block
- 29 - Being on time, calm, and prepared for client meetings
- 18 - Professional client-facing materials, including:
- 30 - Other status signals that lead to higher perception of intangible value:
- 31 - Exclusivity. Some examples might include:
- 32 - A trademarked name for a diagnostic tool that you have created
- 33 - An exclusive name for a certain process or type of report. While the content may not be exclusive, your naming of it is.
- 31 - Exclusivity. Some examples might include:
All of these signals create emotional security for your clients and prospects. Get most or all of them right, and your clients will feel more safe going with you.
Combine that feeling of safety with strong quantifiable value, and you've got a killer across-the-board value proposition that will set you up for life.
Hi there! Here are three new report templates that were just added to Remarq. You can create custom report styles based on these templates with your own choices of colors, fonts, sizes, etc.. If you'd like to try these out be sure to sign up for access to the beta below.