How Easy Can Marketing Be?

Article by C.J. HaydenI often speak to groups of independent professionals about what works and what doesn’t in marketing. We talk about the effectiveness of active, relationship-oriented strategies like networking, building referral partnerships, public speaking to groups of potential clients, and following up persistently with interested prospects. Then we consider the relative ineffectiveness of passive, anonymous strategies like directory or pay-per-click advertising, mailing out boilerplate letters, posting flyers on bulletin boards, or sending your ezine to people who’ve never heard of you.

Once we’ve compared these different types of strategies, I’ll ask them: “Was this new information to you, or did you know this already?” They’ll typically answer something like this: “You explained it in a way that’s easy to follow and remember, and that was helpful… but yes, I pretty much did know it already.”

“Then tell me,” I’ll ask, “how well does what you have done to market yourself in the last six months match up with what you already know about what works and what doesn’t?”

In a room full of people, there will usually be two or three — the experienced, successful members of the group — whose marketing passes this test. But the other 95% of the audience will laugh, groan, or just shake their heads in wonder at the amount of time and money they are spending doing what they already know doesn’t work.

Why is it that all these bright, talented, hard-working entrepreneurs are wasting their energy on marketing activities that lead to struggle or failure? Even when they know better?

Here’s what they tell me. It’s “easier” to do the things that don’t work as well. And then at least they feel like they are doing something.

The marketing activities which produce the best results can also be scary, difficult, or distasteful. Placing follow-up calls exposes you to rejection. Going to networking meetings means talking to strangers. Public speaking may be outside your comfort zone. It feels so much easier and less confronting to mail a stack of letters, pay for a few directory listings or ads, or add a bunch of new email addresses to your list of subscribers.

But is this “easy way out” really so easy? Consider the potential consequences of continuing to use all the least effective ways to market yourself and none of the ones already known to work:

  • Advertising, whether you choose to do it by mail, in print, or on the web, is typically the most expensive form of marketing available. To have any significant impact, your letter or ad must be powerfully written, well-designed, and reach your potential client more than once. If you don’t get the mix of factors just right, your ad might have no response at all, or cost you much more than the few clients you ever get from it.
  • Prospects who contact you as the result of a print or web ad, flyer, direct mail letter, or other anonymous solicitation will be more skeptical, harder to sell, and take longer to close than prospects who know you by name or reputation, or are referred by someone they trust. These strangers will also be much less inclined to pay what you ask, and often waste your time preparing bids or proposals while they shop around for the best price.
  • When you stick with just a handful of proven strategies like networking, referral-building, speaking, or persistent follow-up, you can create a marketing plan that a solo professional can realistically accomplish. But if you try to implement simultaneously a dozen different “creative” ideas for advertising, promotion, and solicitation, you won’t have enough time and energy to carry them off. Instead of doing a few effective things well, you’ll end up doing a host of not-so-effective things poorly, and you’ll also wear yourself out.

It seems that the easy way out may not be so easy after all. If it takes you more time, more money, and more work, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get clients as a result, that sounds pretty hard to me.

The next time you are tempted to spend your scarce marketing resources on an activity you’re not so sure about, try asking yourself these questions:

  1. How much time will this activity take?
  2. How much money will it cost?
  3. Do I have enough time and money available to do it well?
  4. How many clients do I honestly think this activity will bring me?
  5. Is there an easier way for me to produce the same result?

Judgments like “easy” and “hard” are relative. You may have a lot of time available to promote your business, and not much money. Or perhaps you have some money, but not much time. You may have an outgoing personality and enjoy attending networking mixers and calling strangers on the phone. Or you may prefer more intimate conversations with people you know better. Only you can decide what “an easier way” to market your business truly is.

But be sure when you make that choice, you think it all the way through. Instead of telling yourself, “It would be so easy to just place an ad,” consider the cost, potential consequences, and likelihood of results. If it still seems like the easiest way for you to get clients with all those factors taken into consideration, by all means go ahead.

I suspect, though, that more often than not, you’ll find that what you first thought would be the easy way to market will turn out to be hard… and what you thought was so hard may turn out to be easy after all.

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