I don’t know what possessed me but late in my career I went out on my own. I was fortunate in my prior situations to have learned a lot about business from some great leaders and some great technicians. The only aspect of running a business I had zero experience in was marketing.
Sure, I took marketing classes in school but I had no practical experience and honestly didn’t take it that seriously. I mean, how hard can this be? You run a few ads and voila, customers.
Ok so here is what I have learned about marketing after five years of operating my own business.
Lesson 1. It’s hard, you need help, and finding help is hard.
Don’t take this part for granted. In today’s world there is a wide variety of marketing channels, many with technical complexities, and finding the ones that work for any given business is tricky. So yes, go out and find yourself a good marketing advisor, but even that is tricky. Theoretically any good marketing consultant knows how to choose marketing channels, develop content and work with your budget. But to be effective they also need to understand both your business and your audience. So ask a lot of questions, be prepared to do a lot of educating and don’t settle until you are comfortable that your prospective advisor has these bases covered.
Lesson 2. You are going to waste money.
There is no getting around this. You will waste money trying things that don’t work. Unfortunately, it’s the only way to figure it out. And you will be told that your strategies will take time before you can even begin to assess their effectiveness, so you get to waste money for months before you have a verdict. I know, it sounds brutal. The best piece of marketing advice I have ever received is this: 80 percent of what you try will not work, but 20 percent will. So when trying new things avoid long term contracts and test in quantities sufficient to assess the strategy but with as little cash outlay as possible. Look at the failed experiments as an investment and trust that you will eventually find the right channels.
Lesson 3. Don’t be afraid.
This could just be me, but I had a lot of marketing fears at first. There is a natural fear of doing anything you have never done before, fear of making dumb mistakes, fear of screwing it up. I also had to deal with a fear of seeming pushy. I actually remember that in my first few months in business someone complained about receiving too many promotional emails from me – and I developed an instant fear of sending promotional emails. But email marketing is a particularly effective and low cost strategy for small businesses. There will always be a few people who won’t like whatever you do, so I learned to get over the fear. Ever watch the 6 o’clock news? How many times do they run the same annoying car dealership ad in 30 minutes? The car dealer isn’t sitting around fretting about who finds her ads annoying.
It’s been a long, reluctant education for me. I know a lot less than the average marketing professional but a lot more than the average marketer. It took time and it cost money, and that will continue because the options keep changing and getting more sophisticated. But I eventually found the right help and learned enough to be comfortable making marketing decisions without terror. You will too!
Robbin Orbison is the founder and owner of CapeSpace, a flexible office space in Hyannis. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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