This is the second in a four-part series on how to market your business as a self-employed entrepreneur. The first article, “Selling is Not a Dirty Word,” can be accessed here.
* Advertising and marketing are not the same. When I talk about marketing, I’m talking about everything that promotes my business and gets my name out in my target community. Advertising is when I pay someone to place a specific ad about my business-as an underwriter on my local public radio station, in a display or classified ad in a magazine or newspaper, or in a TV spot. I do very little advertising. For me, it’s too expensive and I just haven’t seen enough of a return. The past few years, I have experimented with pay-per-click ads online, and occasionally will pay for an classified ad targeting a particular audience for a high-ticket special event. But overall, most of what I do is marketing-which requires mostly legwork and consistent application.
* Marketing requires trial and error. Some of your marketing campaigns or strategies will bear fruit and others will fall flat. Capitalize on what works and let go of the things that don’t.
* Marketing costs money. To succeed, you need to invest in your business and in yourself. The majority of marketing dollars I spend are for graphic design, printing, and infrastructure that often need to be created only once, and then tweaked or updated later. These costs include things like the design of my website, the initial set-up the Roadmap blog so people could post their writing on it, and paying a designer to create my “brand.” I also pay my email marketing company a monthly fee and my web hosting company for hosting my website. Whenever possible, I trade for services: I’ve traded writing classes or editing services for artwork, postering, graphic design, PR visioning, and more. But I also have a cadre of professionals I’ve paid over the years-graphic designers, marketing people, website design and web maintenance folks. It’s just part of the cost of doing business.
* Hire experts whenever necessary. Know what you’re good at, what you’re willing to learn to do, and what you want to spend your time doing. Hire others to do the rest. I, for instance, have on retainer a team who helps with my website. I do most of my website updates myself, but when I get stuck on a technical glitch or want to do something beyond my basic skill set, I have someone to call to bail me out and do it for me.
* Understand the concept of the marketing funnel. A dozen years ago, when my father died, I inherited $70,000, all of which wasted trying to make my book I Thought We’d Never Speak Again: The Road from Estrangement to Reconciliation a bestseller. I hired a fancy L.A. marketing company (at $5000 a month-no shit!), went with the Shopping Sherpa to Saks Fifth Avenue to buy a new and very expensive book tour wardrobe, created a spanking brand new website, and hired branding expert Clark Heist to create my brand (this is the brand I still use and was worth every dollar) Most bizarrely, I paid five grand to attend a conference sponsored by IBI, International Business Institute, which I can best describe as a very costly cult initiation for wannabe entrepreneurs.
The one invaluable concept I learned that weekend was about the marketing funnel. The basic concept is this: you draw people in at the widest level (the open end of the funnel) via all the things you do for free or at low cost, and then you gradually introduce them to your paid offerings, starting with the most affordable and eventually, as they become more invested in who you are and what you have to offer, you move them along to the products or services that require more commitment of their time, energy and money. I’ve haven’t incorporated this advice completely, but I’ve found the basic principle to be sound, which is why I’ve learned to:
* Create a wide range of offerings. Create offerings at different price points that require varying levels of commitment (including some that give a free introduction to your work). Personally, I offer a free monthly class and have created a free online community. There’s a ton of free content on my website-a rich repository of good writing-my own and that of my students. Then I have my local weekly classes, and as an incentive, I offer new student discounts at a reduced fee on a regular basis. I have a rotating array of one-day events, weekend classes, weeklong retreats, and now, international trips to Bali-and hopefully, soon, Findhorn in Scotland.
Some of my students will only ever come to a weekly class-sometimes for years. Another person may enjoy my weekly prompts from afar and decide to travel to California for a weekend once a year-or they might love to travel and jump on the first offer of my trip to Bali.
Some people will only come to my free class at Bookshop Santa Cruz, and never pay a dime for a single other offering. And that’s fine with me, too. It’s a way for me to give back to a town that has nurtured me for over 30 years and it creates good energy in the community. Even though they may never enroll in a class, the students who come to my free classes help create the kind of buzz that inspires their neighbors, sisters, friends, daughters, or mother-in laws to join one of my classes later on. Bookshop Santa Cruz puts my name out in front of thousands of people I’d never reach any other way-on a monthly basis. And that’s worth a lot to me.
* Try something new on a regular basis. My success has often been based on experimentation-trying a new offering and seeing if it takes off. Don’t be afraid to try something new; just don’t invest too much money into an untested idea. But don’t hesitate to throw a new idea out there and see how your market reacts. Sometimes they’ll bite-and sometimes they won’t.
* Explore collaborative ventures. This is something I’d like to do more of-pairing my work with a colleague’s and offering an innovative hybrid of the two. It’s lonely doing everything by myself. And the cross-pollination of “my people” with my colleagues “people” is good for both of us.
I also teach twice a year at Cabrillo College through their Extension program. The gig doesn’t pay much, but it gets my name out in the catalogue they mail out to every home in the county. I inevitably get one or two new students every time I teach there, plus a dozen or more new names for my email list-so I have the opportunity to start building an ongoing relationship with those who attend.
* Expect failure and capitalize on success. For every great success I’ve had, I’ve had at least one spectacular failure. This includes bestselling books that sold well over a million copies and a self-published book that flopped and ended up filling my daughter’s closet for years-an invasion of her personal space she will never let me forget. I’ve done book signings for one person and spoken in front of a thousand. I’ve offered workshops and trips I had to cancel because no one signed up and then filled the 2013 trip to Bali the first month it was listed. You never know what will catch the fancy of your audience; let go of what isn’t working and capitalize on what is.
* Be nimble. Agility is extremely important when you’re self-employed. You have to stay in touch with changes in your competition, the marketplace, and your customers. Their likes and needs will change and evolve. You also need to adapt to new means of communication, new technologies, and new ways of doing business. If what you’re doing isn’t producing results, don’t keep repeating the same strategy just because “it’s the way I’ve always done it” or because you don’t know how to do anything else.
* Be patient. Results don’t happen overnight. Your reputation and your success will grow over time. Be patient and keep plugging away at it.
The last two articles in the series will be: “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 this articles as they’re published, you can subscribe here.