Every summer my mother packed me off to the Misty Waters pool the first week of June where I was shaking from fear before I even dipped a toe into the cold early morning water. It was the first day of swimming lessons. Anxious to my core, I would sleep in my bathing suit the night before the lessons started so that I would be completely ready as soon as I woke up.
The first day was always the same. The instructors lined us up and told each kid to swim the length of the pool. If we wouldn’t jump in, they would toss us in.
If you looked like you were going to drown quickly, they would haul you out of the pool by the back of your bathing suit and tell you to stand with the Tadpoles. If you could kinda sorta swim or flail to the end, they would group you with the Guppies. And if you zipped to the end of the pool with a fancy flip flourish when you got there, then you, my friend, were a Dolphin.
For the rest of the week of swimming lessons, you knew what lane to show up in each morning: Tadpole, Guppy or Dolphin. Swim lanes were the key to everyone learning as much as possible during a week of lessons.
Full disclosure: I never became a Dolphin. I’m not bitter. Really. I was freakin’ happy to even make Guppy.
Your business needs swim lanes.
If you’re struggling to engage new clients, then there is a good chance that you’re putting too much Dolphin in your marketing. By recognizing the levels of needs, then you can develop swim lanes for your business that will make it much easier to to engage new clients and grow a bigger business.
For example, let’s talk about coaches. Coaches have done a lot of personal work. They love personal development, and they are very much Dolphins in their own level of development. The problem shows up when they market as Dolphins. They’re speaking only Dolphin-y language (lots of jargon, lots of talk about thought work, highly conceptual, etc.). That would be fine if they were only speaking to other Dolphins, but they’re not. To the rest of the world, all that Dolphin-speak just sounds like “eh-eh-eh! eh-eh-eh!”
Remember the TV show Flipper? Sure, Flipper could understand Sandy and Bud, but they couldn’t exactly understand him. If you’re only speaking Dolphin language, then there is a good chance that your prospective clients are having trouble decoding your clicks and squeaks, however profound, into something meaningful for them.
The key is to think about what your Tadpoles need and what your Guppies need – not just your Dolphins. What are the problems that they are having? How can you speak their language?
How can you create clear swim lanes in your practice so that all three groups can recognize themselves in what you have to offer? Please never forget: marketing is about them, not you.
There’s another huge advantage to this approach for your practice: you will be able to provide a longer season over which you are useful to your clients, i.e., they will want to return to you and purchase services from you over and over.
If you only have services for Tadpoles, then people will move on when they are no longer newbies. If you are only marketing to Dolphins, then you are competing in a much more elite zone and may have to wait a long time before prospects are ready to work with you. If you’re a new coach, you’re also competing against much more established Dolphin providers.
Most practices grow along with the provider’s experience. Don’t be afraid to market to Tadpoles and Guppies so you’ll have a sustainable flow of clients. You’ll cultivate your own pod of Dolphins over time.
Tadpoles, Guppies and Dolphins want different things.
Let’s get the Dolphin-speak out of your marketing. Want to see some examples based on coaching? (You could easily create similar examples for everything from churches to gyms.)
A writing coach would be very Dolphin-y if she only offered full-length book coaching for those who want to complete and publish their first work of fiction. If she offered some classes to help people find their voice or a challenge program to get people journaling on a daily basis for thirty days, then she would be appealing to her Tadpoles and her Guppies, who might later become book coaching clients.
An intuitive eating coach would be very Dolphin-y if she promised everyone that they could end their struggle with food forever by changing their thoughts and only offered six months coaching packages to help clients get there. She will have to work really hard to convince people that the high-concept program will work, especially before she has strong word-of-mouth marketing working on her behalf. Instead she could offer something like a “Two Pounds in Ten Days” program, in which she teaches lots of thought work but appeals to the Tadpole’s urgent desire to start seeing changes in weight. Even in such a small change as two pounds, her new clients will be much more confident in her methods and be more willing to consider continuing to work with her in a committed way.
Another example that I love comes from my client, Lisa Alessi. She has created swim lanes in her practice for people who are dealing with a big decision (her Tadpoles) all the way through to those who want to be transformational leaders (her Dolphins). This screenshot of her homepage shows how she clearly shows the options to site visitors so that they can find quickly themselves in her service offerings. (Thank you, Lisa, for allowing me to share this here.)
Ready to create swim lanes for your business?
Trace back in your own experience.
Before you were a Dolphin, you were a Guppy and, yes, a Tadpole at some point. What did you want when you were a Tadpole? What started you on the path toward becoming a Dolphin in your area?
Discover the meaning of survival, progress and thriving among the people you serve.
In my swimming lessons as a kid, Tadpoles were thrilled to not drown, whereas Dolphins wanted to become fierce competitors. What is the equivalent of drown-proofing for your prospective clients? Where are they literally struggling for survival or to get a bit of traction into the next phase of their development? What goals do your clients have after they are more comfortable in their basic skills?
Stop being Dolphin-y in your primary marketing.
If you’re using lots of jargon from your training or your professional colleagues, knock it off. Nobody understands you but your colleagues, and they are probably not your clients. Tadpoles want solutions, not transformation. They may be open to transformation after their problem is being addressed but it’s very difficult to sell nirvana to someone who is struggling for something more basic. I’m not saying that you, especially if you’re a coach, are solving the problem for them. You will profit by speaking to their desire for a solution and providing tools for them to solve specific problems.
Chum the waters with offers that reach out to your Tadpoles and your Guppies.
In another post of mine about creating velcro offers that attract clients who stick, I spoke about how to translate problems that prospects have into offers that they find easy to buy. The comments in that post offered many more examples that show how to turn language around from problems into offers. Want to see clear offers for Tadpoles and Guppies? Read that post.
Be aware of your own resistance.
Don’t want to address Tadpole problems? Does it feel too “base” for you? Have you tried it yet? I promise you that if you’ll speak to real problems, you’ll get to do deep work with people but they desperately need a portal through which to find you. There are Tadpole problems that are very sophisticated (and profitable); the Tadpole label is in no way a comment about the innate ability, intelligence or potential of your prospects. If you’re unwilling to speak to real world problems in real world language and your goal is to make a profit, then you’ll need patience (and more time and resources) to cultivate the Dolphin clients or you may have internal work to do on your own confidence or the vision that you have of your business.
Learn from the history of Dolphin proprietors.
If you admire someone’s business who appears to be working with a lot of Dolphins, learn more about how they got started. It probably wasn’t with Dolphins! Your business will evolve with your experience. But first you’ve got to survive the early stages in your business or you’ll never get to do the more Dolphin-y work that may appeal to you at this time because of where you are in your own personal development. Again, your offers are not about you in a healthy, thriving business.
You don’t have to shiver in your bathing suit as you face the swim lanes of your business. Be confident in your ability as a strong Dolphin to lead and serve your Tadpoles and Guppies, too. They are eager to learn from you and will help you make a splash when they tell others how valuable your services were to them.
Has your marketing been overly Dolphin-y? Want to chat about how to connect with your Tadpoles and Guppies in the comments? Let’s do it.