Last weekend, Rosemary Christian and I cooked an 8-course Balinese feast as part of a reunion of the Bay Area folks who came on my Bali trip last June. Over dinner, we were discussing the fact that next year’s trip is already full, and two of our guests, Judy Slattum of Danu Tours and Karen Zelin, local mindfulness and yoga teacher, joked that they wanted to hire me to teach a class on marketing for self-employed people who run their own small businesses. I dismissed their comments until I started to reflect on how much I have learned over the years about successfully marketing my work as a creative person.
The next morning, I sat down with a yellow legal pad and started jotting down everything I had to say on this topic, and I suddenly realized I had a lot to say. This blog post is the first of a 4-part series.
I’ve earned my living as a self-employed writer and writing teacher for over 20 years. What follows is a summary of what I’ve learned running a one-woman shop for the past two decades. I work very hard (my family and I agree I work too much), but it’s been worth it to me to have the creative freedom to do what I want, the way I want to do it, when I want to do it. I like the control and creativity that come with being a self-employed entrepreneur.
The vast majority of my marketing I describe in this series I do by myself-with targeted help from professionals as needed.
Coming up with a marketing strategy is not a one-size-fits-all formula. For instance, I am personally not big on attending networking events. I don’t enjoy them and I’m not good at that kind of schmoozing. And my life is too complex and far too busy to make those kind of events work for me. But for other small business owners, networking might be the cornerstone of their marketing plan.
Since all businesses and entrepreneurs are different, the specific strategies I cite here may or may not apply to your circumstances or your business. I hope you find some of them useful.
Part I: Selling is Not a Dirty Word
This is the first in a four-part series on how to market your business as a self-employed entrepreneur. The rest of the series will be posted in future newsletters.
• Ask yourself if you are willing to take on the risks and challenges of self-employment. Ask yourself these three questions: “Am I willing to give up the security of a regular paycheck?” ”Am I willing to work more hours than I ever thought possible to make my dream a reality?” And, “Am I willing learn the necessary skills to become a self-promoting entrepreneur?”
• Build your business around something you love and do extremely well.Ask yourself whether this talent or skill, knowledge or craft is something you’re willing to develop and grow with over a number of years. Consider whether the pleasure of the activity will be ruined once is attached to daily repetition and becomes the source of your livelihood-something you have to do on demand-not just when you want to.
• Figure out your niche. A niche is the sweet spot where what you do best-and the way you do it-dovetails with something people need and are willing to pay for. Your niche is what differentiates you from your competitors. I, for instance, know that there are people who can teach aspects of the craft of writing far better than I can. What I know how to do best is to create community, build a safe environment, and inspire people to change and transform their lives. Writing just happens to be the medium I use I do those things. My niche is to be an agent of change, healing, and transformation for other people-and I use communication, in a variety of forms-not just writing-to accomplish those aims.
• It is not enough to be good or even very good at what you do. Just having a talent or a skill is not enough. You need to also be willing and able to market that talent-to make what you have something other people will want.
• Give up the fantasy that you can sit back and wait for people to discover you. Customers don’t magically appear. You have to work to get every customer-especially during the years when you are first getting established.
• Marketing is a core part of YOUR ongoing job description. I often spend more of my work hours in a given week promoting and administering my business than I do teaching. Give up the fantasy that promoting your business is someone else’s job. No one will ever promote what you do as well as you can. Learn to embrace marketing. Even to enjoy it. Find a way to make marketing part of your creative work, something you can be proud of. At a minimum, accept marketing as a necessary, essential part of what you do. Not just an evil to be tolerated.
• Someone has to hear about you seven times to finally pay attention. When you consider the glut of advertising, information, and input we’re all bombarded with on a daily basis, this makes complete sense. In order to finally notice you, people need to see your name and your brand multiple times and in multiple ways: in a conversation with a neighbor who just took your free class, on a flyer they see on a coffeehouse bulletin board while they’re waiting for their latte, listed in the events calendar in a local weekly rag while they’re look up a movie time.
I’m always shocked when I carefully craft an article for my monthly newsletter about an upcoming event, send out the newsletter, and then go to my current, active, committed students and say, “You know that article I sent out in my newsletter last week?” and ¾ of the faces stare back at me blankly. Telling people once is not enough. It’s never enough. I have to tell my students in person, put it on a white board in the back of the class, create a flyer or postcard or brochure they can take home, post it on my business Facebook page-and send out a series of emails about it-all in order to break through all the noise that clutters our lives.
I’m also not adverse to going up to an student of mine, someone I think would really benefit from a specific offering and saying, “You know, I think it would be really great if you took the Memoir Intensive this year. I think you’re really ready.”
• Repeat to yourself on daily basis: “Selling is not dirty.” Do you believe you have a wonderful product or service? Do you believe that people will truly benefit from the unique thing you have to offer? If you answered yes, then tooting your own horn is a essential part of your job. You don’t have to mumble it while looking down at your shoes. Say it out proudly.
The other articles in the series will be: “Marketing Basics,” “The Nuts and Bolts of Creating Marketing Materials,” and “Building a Relationship with Your Customer.” Each will be posted in an upcoming newsletter. If you’re not a subscriber and would like to read these articles as they’re published, you can subscribe on the top right corner of this webpage.