From agencies to interns, choose the RIGHT marketing for your small business

I recently got the following question in my inbox:

Q: How does a small business decide when to hire a marketing firm on a part time basis? Full time? Or hire an employee with a marketing degree?

A: When a small business starts to look for outside help, the possibilities seem limitless and the potential costs can appear both over-whelming and uncapped. You’re smart to take a few moments to weigh your options and get more information.

I’m a fan of keeping marketing in-house for as long as it makes sense because you can control, learn, and grow on your terms.

The question is, when does it stop making sense to keep your marketing in-house?

When a small business is looking at outside help, it’s usually for one of three pivot points:

marketing pivot points

  1. Whatever we’re currently doing isn’t working… maybe someone else knows better.
  2. Our marketing worked for where our business was in the past, the trouble is, we’ve outgrown it and need something to take us to the next level. But we’re not sure what.
  3. We are way too busy serving customers and being profitable and we know marketing is important – we just don’t have the bandwidth to stay ontop of it.

Marketing Pivot Point #1: Whatever we’re currently doing isn’t working… maybe someone else knows better.

If your company is in the “whatever they’re currently doing isn’t working… maybe someone else knows better” stage, then it’s time to get a new perspective.

If it’s an issue around a specific tactic, then you may find yourself working directly with a graphic designer, developer, or copywriter.

If you’re looking for tools to be created, you’re not happy with your current flier or business card, website, you’ll be working with a professional who specializes in that specifc tactic.

However if it’s more strategic – if your answer to “what isn’t working” is either “everything” or “I don’t know” then I recommend you meet with someone trusted who can help you untangle what really is the current situation from a strategic standpoint, not from a tactic standpoint.

I’m a strategist (so that’s what I do best) and there are many flavors marketing consultants can also help you decide where you are and what the real challenges are.

It’s important that whomever is helping you with perspective and strategy is asking the questions to help you determine whether what you have on your hands is a marketing challenge, sales challenge, or a process challenge.

A challenge with people not understanding what you do is different that someone not understanding how to buy from you or how to buy from you in the future.

Once you’re clear on the challenge, you’ll want to be smart in building a solution – the solution can likely come from in-house, if you have the talent, or from independent contractors who help you create the pieces. Sometimes your consultant can oversee this. Together you develop a few key systems or pieces to help solve the problem efficiently, getting you to the next level of business – a correlation between your marketing and sales.

Rarely would I recommend an agency at this stage because costs are high and control is low. At this point, you want low costs and high control so that you’re able to efficiently oversee your own process.

Marketing Pivot Point #2: Our marketing worked for where our business was in the past, the trouble is, we’ve outgrown it and need something to take us to the next level. But we’re not sure what.

First, congratulations on getting to this point! It’s not always ever easy.

If you’ve outgrown your marketing and need new pieces developed, you may want to return to who helped you get here before.They already know you and you save time in ramp-up.

If you weren’t happy with them, ask for referrals for a strategist or consultant who can help you outline what is next in your marketing. If you’re looking for a referral, you’re welcome to contact me directly and we’ll see what we can find for you.

If ongoing marketing support is needed – for instance, you’ve correlated that Google AdWords is an important part of your business (aka it works for you), then you will probably still find it less expensive to hire someone indepdent to oversee the process and report back to you.

However, if you have seven or eight of these independent people working for you, it may be time to start looking at bringing in a part-time person to oversee your marketing.

The challenge here is finding a someone who has the individual talents of the different providers at a price point you can manage. Usually, I find what can be taught to a part-time person and pay the provider to train them so that the skill set is now in-house.

I’ve trained in-house marketing coordinators to think strategically, so there’s no limit to what the right candidate can be taught.

Marketing Pivot Point  #3: We are way too busy serving customers and being profitable and we know marketing is important – we just don’t have the bandwidth to stay on top of it.

When this is your challenge, it may be time to get help with making your process become more efficient and the first step is often deciding whether to make your part time person into a full time person or to go with an agency.

Agencies are wonderful options for companies who have more important (and profitable) work to do than run their marketing.

The brilliant shift in today’s world is that there are different types of agencies for different budgets, usually that involves a flat-rate retainer fee for a certain number of service hours, with you paying for any analog (paper) or digital materials developed, or specific services outside of the scope of the retainer.

If you have questions on this process, or are looking for some help navigating, definitely reach out – you’re welcome to schedule a chat with me and we can outline what’s needed, what’s next, and what’s unnessciary for where you are today.

Have a marketing question? Send it to me straightaway on the website or send it to me


How I got my inner-12 year-old to stop sabotaging my marketing.

The first six years that I oversaw the marketing for the family business, my inner 12 year old was in charge.

Our marketing ‘strategy’ (if you could call it that) was absolutely guided by my insecurities.  I was afraid to put anything up. Afraid someone would disagree (and publicly air their disapproval).

Maybe, if I just bury my head in the sand, this will all pass. {via}

How Insecurities Take Charge

It all started with one guy on our newsletter list.  He would reply to every issue with edits, comments, and critical feedback.  My 12 year old self loathed him.

My 12 year-old self quickly learned to balk and put off ever triggering his replies: messages never went out.

In addition to procrastinating, I was so afraid of making mistakes, that I obsessively studied our competitors for better ways of doing things.  The trouble with that, though, was that their work seemed 1000% better than anything I could come up with.

Thus, began the downward spiral of avoiding creating anything.

The boss (my father) had no idea the extent of insecurity that was running the marketing: he was busy with the scores of other things he had to accomplish. Plus, as a 12 year old, it was easier to bear your dad’s frustration than it is to field responses from strangers.

It’s easier to put things off than it is to face the discomfort around exposure.

When Pops would ask me about deadlines or deliverables, I’d make up all kinds of stories that I knew he’d never follow up on: issues with printers or the website and challenges around getting things to look “just right”.  I began to believe those stories myself.  Getting caught up in details was easier than chancing my actions might actually stir things up.

And when I had no choice but to get the message out (like when we had time-sensitive offers or events), I procrastinated until the very last minute possible, scrambling to get things up.

Like Rushing over Hot Coals

My attempt to avoid discomfort by procrastinating was like rushing over marketing hot coals, leading to exactly what I was afraid of: making careless mistakes and typos (especially on dates and times!).  Quite the cycle.

Looking back, they weren’t careless mistakes. Because (boy, howdy!) did I care.

But like most 12 year olds, I cared way too much about the wrong things.

My uncertainty, doubt, and anxiousness crippled our ability to reach people.  It stunted our potential and effectiveness.  It caused confusion for customers and totally justified frustration from the boss man.

Worst of all, it set up the limiting behavior in me that there was something wrong with the way I did things. I gave away my autonomy (as 12 year-olds are known to do).  This was especially caustic because I was the only one available to do the marketing.  If I didn’t do it, it didn’t get done.

Four Things My Inner 12 Year-Old Needed to Know About Marketing

Ideally the marketing would have been sherpa’d by a less emotionally volatile person.   But since that wasn’t an option, here are four things I wish that my 12 year-old self could have realized:

1) One lone critic isn’t something to get overly concerned about.  Particularly if he’s got no experience in what you do and no platform.  People who criticize have nothing better to do. They guy with the newsletter? He’s retired and this is how he gets his shits and giggles. Take his spelling and grammar advice and defer the rest. If you heard this from three different people, then I’d worry about it. But one person? Notworthit.

2) You think that monitoring and berating yourself will keep you from making mistakes?  In truth, the pressure you put on yourself is stopping you from doing anything: making mistakes, yes, but it’s also stopping you from doing anything valuable. In trying (even though it sometimes feels like failing), you’re setting yourself apart.

3) Give yourself massive credit for trying because a) you deserve it, and b) giving yourself credit will make you want to do more.  One thing successful people know is that you have to DO in order to get better.  And getting better at anything marketing related requires doing and testing.

4) Have fun. There will never be another time just like now: you’ve got a whole world of industry knowledge at your fingertips, a boss who can’t fire you, and the title of student on your side.  Have fun. And remember that even though it seems inconceivable, the process is just as important as the outcome.

Now it’s your turn. Where have you seen your inner 12 year-old running your marketing? How have you helped him/her push past?

Is there room for your personal brand in your business brand?

A darling new client brought me a recent challenge.

He wants to personally brand himself in order to stand out in a crowded space. The personal brand is clever, catchy and strong. All good things.

Square Peg in a Round Hole

However, from where I sit, things are clear: the personal brand he’s shooting for – what it stands for, what it’s supposed to represent — is not parallel to what his business does. More importantly, it’s not going to help in the process of where he wants his business to grow.

This struggle isn’t unique to entrepreneurs. On the big stage, it plays out by companies like Burger King.

In blind taste tests, Burger King’s burgers win on taste every time. That’s people saying “you’re really great at what you do!”. Yet, they keep trying to add a layer of personal branding on – most famously with The King.

The King got attention (maybe not the most positive attention, but attention no less). Yet it did nothing for sales, loyalty, or consumer preference.

This “personal” brand agent didn’t support where Burger King wanted to take their business. A big, expensive attention-getting attempt that got eyeballs, but didn’t pay off.

You might reason that my client should just drop the schtick, right? Well, that’s difficult to do when you’re eager to (and need to) stand out in a highly competitive industry.

Together, we’re working on developing the personal brand into something that can work for him as a figurehead, and something that he can transition out of over time. Kind of like a reverse Richard Branson.

This adjusted personal brand helps him build a base of clients (and sales), and we’ll work to position it as a complement to his business and it’s ever-evolving goals.

Here are two ways to prepare a personal brand that will fit with your business brand:

  • Make sure the personal brand values are parallel to and an amplification of the business brand.

If the business values transparency, the personal brand can just take this a little bit further – a “tell all” approach to content strategy, or a “caught being honest” weekly column may work well.

  • Follow a few brand mentors who do a great job billing themselves as a “2.0″ human being – showcasing their ‘super power’ in their personal brand… and highlighting that same ‘super power’ in their company.

Watch how they shine their spotlight on like-minded individuals in their company (and beyond). They’re building their personal and company brands by the company they keep and talk about.
For example, Toms (the shoe company) does a great job highlighting the volunteer work of every employee, a key driver for founder Blake Mycoskie.

The Jig is Up: why does finding my “Ideal Customer” seem like believing in Santa Claus?

Did with a radio interview for The Possbilities Group (click here for recording). We had a few questions that didn’t get answered on-air, so here’s the full answer.

Q: I hear all of this stuff about my ‘target market’ and ‘ideal customer’, and heard it again today. Well, where do I FIND my them? It’s beginning to feel like Santa Claus and I’m beginning to think it isn’t real.

Sounds like you’re really in need of practical details. So here’s how I’d begin looking:

First: look back.

Where have you had interacted with folks who paid well and were a pleasure to deal with? If it was last month or last week or a year ago, great – start with them.

Now ask yourself: How did they find me? What had them buy from me?

If you don’t know, ask them those questions. Don’t assume you know if you haven’t asked!
Then commence light “stalking” (see below for details).

What if they aren’t a client but I interacted with them in a prior career?

That’s cool too. List what made them so appealing. Think about where they might be now (or people very similar to them), needing your service/product today. The commence the light “stalking” (see below).

What if I don’t have anyone?

If you don’t have anyone, then start making a list of the qualities of clients you’d like to have. Now look for those people in your life.

Ask them to join you for lunch or coffee and ask them for their feedback on what you’re trying to do.

Then zip up and listen. (And if you’re in San Diego, come to one of my Free Marketing 101 classes. Taught in conjunction with the San Diego Small Business Center, I’ve held this class since 2011 and we spend significant time figuring out WHO is right for you.)

Light “Stalking”: make like Jane Goodall and observe.

Then commence what I call “light stalking”: follow them on social media – check out their Facebook or LinkedIn Profile (if appropriate in the context of your relationship). Learn what they like, what they share, and where they spend their time (events they attend). You can also see if they’re active on Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube. In most cases all you need is their email address.

Megawatt thanks to Debbie Seid of The Possibilies Group for making the hour fly by! What great fun!

The C-Word: Could

I sat down with a smart business owner.  He has an incredible scope of experience, deep skill set, and plenty of industry knowledge and connections.

He has a strong product that has been developed over several years. He has a team.

And yet, even he is susceptible to marketing hype.

Buzz, too early on, sucks

For him, hype shows up as an inability to commit to a strategy and instead, bouncing off the walls with tactics.

All the things we could do.

His creativity begins to stir when he things about what’s possible. Direct mailers with eye-catching bling. iPad giveaways! Hosting exclusive, invite-only meals.

He buzzes at the endless possibilities about how we *could* potentially build awareness among his target market.

Could Contributes to Hype

Could is potentiality.  And could feeds marketing hype, distracting decision makers from their goal of actually reaching people in an effective way.

Folks who get caught on the “coulds” have little experience with just how much thoughtful planning and effort it takes to successfully implement a marketing campaign, let alone several.

The client can absolutely send out a direct mailer.  He’s competent.  He can come up with the resources.

Here’s what he has to do: buy a list, get a designer to create the piece, figure out what you want it to say, decide what you want people to do, pay for postage and mail it.  At bare minimum, for 1,000 pieces he’s looking at spending at least $1,500 plus time and energy that cannot be devoted to other things.

I wanted him (and you) to know that most direct mail pieces have a 0.02% response rate.

That’s 2 people out of every 1,000 responding.  It doesn’t mean they make a purchase (because the appropriate “goal” for a piece like this is something along the lines of “click here to learn more” or “call us”) – it just means they read, acknowledge, and take an action (like typing in your URL).

Now if they don’t find exactly what they want on the web page (to compel them to buy), and if they’re not completely ready TO buy, or if they’re confused and don’t know what to do next, or if they have a gust of wind that knocks the postcard to the floor… well, you’ve  lost them.

That’s an expensive $1,500 lesson that doesn’t turn to leads.

The Bridge of Strategy

Marketing tactics, all the things you “could” only work to their highest potential (with least waste), when there’s a strong bridge of strategy.


Strategy is the bridge between today (where you are, what you offer) and where you want to get (who you want to work with, how many of them you want to serve, how you want to serve them).  Tactics are the vehicles to get from one side of the bridge to the other.

So the next time you’re feeling antsy and contemplating what you could do to make the phone ring (we’ve all been there, I assure you!), go ahead and brainstorm the whole list.  Have a festival of possibilities, corralling all of the things you “could” do.

Then re-visit your goal: actually reaching people in an effective way that has the highest chance of successfully getting them to DO what you (and they) want.

If you’re not sure what tactics are right for your market, it’s an appropriate time to bring in an outside person to get an idea of what’s going to work, and what all goes in to each tactic.

IMPORTANT: if you bring in someone who makes their living from graphic design, guess what they’ll likely advise you to do?  If you bring in someone who makes their living off of print, guess what they’ll advise you to do? Know your sources of influence, friends!

Stopping the hype and really evaluating how much time, money, and energy it will take to successfully implement just one of marketing tactic successfully is incredibly smart shopping behavior and the knowledge you gain about your market, the tactic, and your strategy will support your business growth for a lifetime.

Slow Business Death by Marketing Hype

Months ago, an entrepreneur with unique product came to one of my workshops.

He invested thousands of dollars and months into his business, but despite all the tips, tricks, and tools he tried, it wasn’t growing the way (or at the speed) he wanted.

But,” he said, “I’m checking out a NEW great marketing system a friend just recommended… have you tried it?

It’s the perfect storm: a business owner who finds power in knowledge, who’s also afraid of missing a crucial marketing opportunity, ready to spend money on the latest system/tool/program that will turn his business around.

This ‘more information is better’ approach might have worked in other facets of his business (legal, bookkeeping, and financial all come to mind), it doesn’t apply to marketing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Marketing is a fast-moving industry, still in infancy, with new technologies and platforms emerging daily. It’s easy to constantly feel behind because that is what every, single marketing solutions sales site WANTS you to feel.

THIS is what we call marketing hype.

You could spend every minute of your day implementing all the marketing solutions in the world and still not move the dial on your actual sales.

THIS is what we call slow business death by marketing hype.

When I touched base with the business owner several months later, few things had changed, and he was still stuck in the same spot. Despite all his efforts to implement his increasing marketing knowledge and the greatest tools ever created, nothing he did in marketing influenced sales.

This brilliant, hardworking entrepreneur on the search for marketing wisdom had no idea what it cost him–in time, energy, and money–to perpetually be chasing marketing hype versus value.

Before you search for marketing answers, it’s better to figure out what problems really need solving by looking at your business as it is, not as what it could be if you just read… researched… and spent a little more.

Caught Doing it Right | Authentic Marketing Inspiration | Eat Live Run

caughtdoingitrightIn Caught Doing it Right Profiles, you’ll learn to deconstruct an Authentic Marketing Approach.  Successful Authentic Marketing Approaches use the triple bottom line: financial profit (an eye on the sales pipeline), personal gain (a personal profit/reward), and some form of social contribution.

Going from blogging to sustainable business is no small feat.

Especially in the ever-crowding space of the interwebs.

Caught Doing it Right is this post introducing a new product line from the lifestyle blog Eat, Live, Run: How to Create a Linen Covered Jewelry Board 

What You Need to Know

Eat, Live, Run, is the baby of Jenna Weber who started out as a food blogger and has since moved to selling products (books and now a jewelry line).

If you think that selling is going to be pushy and “not you”, here’s your panacea.  I’m breaking down how an authentic business like Eat, Live, Run keeps the integrity of their values AND very effectively positions a sale.


The Value for the Audience

The title hold the value. Remember this post is a entitled “How to Create a Linen Covered Jewelry Board”.

Tutorials (designated by the words “how to”) are important to the Do-It-Yourself crowd.  Jenna knows her audience enjoys fulfilling their needs of participating and creating.  Hell, she uses the word “create” in the title!

As a food blogger, Jenna gained her traffic with posting recipes… so it’s natural that she’s talking to a hands-on audience.

Jenna is also aware of her demographics – females – and their needs: they have a need for creating and self-expression… so a tutorial on a jewelry-related project is just their style.

How they Execute the Formula for Authentic Marketing: Financial Profit + Personal Reward + Social Contribution

First off, there’s no assumption that you’ll want to BUY the product.  How good does that feel as a business owner? Not being presumptuous feels soooo good.

And that’s the beauty of this Caught Doing it Right: this post is couching a sale very effectively.

Powerful first line

The very first link (AKA call to action) is to the jewelry collection… but it’s NOT a sales pitch.

It’s focused around the party… and how much fun they had.  Jenna knows her audience is motivated by pleasure, kinship, and participation. She’s letting them “in” on the experience of the party.

Never Abandoning Core Readership

Jenna talks about the fun time she and her friends had (which is an ongoing theme of her blog… her friends were very involved in the intricate surprise marriage proposal planned by her fiancé).

She also attends to recipes she used for the party at the very beginning of the post, along with food photos. This keeps core readership included.

Social Proof and Product Value

There is also several mentions about she loves and wears the projects, and how her friends loved the jewelry at the party.

Both of these “endorsements” are wonderful in solving the need of having tactical feel for products… something that her audience struggles with when it comes to the online sphere. If they can’t physically try it on and touch it, the next-best thing is having others, who are held in high-esteem, endorse the products are going to be of good quality.

The Sales Process

The first product, displayed perfectly and conveyed via the power of story:

Love the Ruth necklace and Ruth’s story that goes along with it. My friends loved hearing all about Jalia and Daniel and the fabulous group of artisans they now have working for them at their headquarters in Uganda!

And here’s where the sales process takes center-stage in a very appropriate way:

Screen shot 2013-04-15 at 10.56.56 AM

Seven additional gorgeous product photos follow, with accompanying product links.

See that the text focuses on the artists behind the product and their stories of lifting out of poverty.  All of this text support does a wonderful job of walking the reader through an emotional journey… one that almost makes you forget WHY you clicked (remember? to make a linen covered jewelry board!).

At the end, the tutorial pops up with five photos and supporting directions.  It’s an incredibly simple tutorial, that displays… jewelry.  What a tie-in!

The simplicity of the tutorial is crucial, as it leaves the reader with a “win” and positive connection to the post.  An complicated tutorial may have left a reader frustrated.

Side note: remember that the likelihood the audience will actually create the project in the tutorial is not the point. The point is to help the reader develop her sense-of-self and have a positive interaction with what’s possible for her.  It might seem counter-intuitive, but from a marketing/sales approach, the experience of thinking through the tutorial is as valuable as doing the tutorial.

The Final Call-to-Action

Finally, the last call to action is about the mission behind the jewelry collection and a link to learn more about buying the jewelry (not about making other linen boards or recipes… Jenna’s absolutely confident on the value of the project and makes it clear that this is a value-rich opportunity, stating:

**If you’re interested in Noonday and want to learn more, I always recommend reading this blog post. It sums up our company perfectly. We’re not a charity and don’t believe in handouts — instead, we believe that job creation is the most sustainable approach to alleviating poverty long-term. When you buy a pretty Noonday necklace or bracelet, you’re becoming part of that story.

Mega-watt props to Jenna for her thoughtful sales process, for enriching her (our) community, and for branching out into another revenue stream in an authentic way.  It’s not easy… but man does it make me grin when it’s done well!

Bottom line: it’s a tutorial (practical value) couched with a product line with clearly defined benefits (social + emotional value) that furthers the brand experience.

The Top Three Ways to Evaluate Marketing Tools

There’s a constant, noisy parade of marketing tools passing by entrepreneurs… in inboxes and on sales pages, in phone solicitations and at workshops.

I predict that the parade is only going to get longer (and louder!).

These three tips will ensure you’re NOT being captivated by the glitz and the fanfare, but instead, capturing how the tool can WORK for you.

1) Get very, very clear on WHERE your target market’s eyeballs reside.

You want to be 1000% sure that your target market uses a certain tool to:
(a) learn about things related to what you do/sell AND
(b) gets information on how to purchase things related to what you do/sell.

While digital marketing is still in its infancy, the beauty of its nature is that there is TONS of data on users.  And traditional media has an established track record of user info.

What to do: To begin evaluating the tool you’re considering using, start by performing a search for the following “[marketing tool] AND [your target market demographics]“.

Top tips for evaluating marketing tools




In the example above, there’s a search using a specific marketing tool (facebook) and demographics (women ages 35-55) – note the use of AND (to include BOTH in the result), as well as the quotation marks (to make sure the entire term is searched).

You’ll also want to test your new insights on real people.  We don’t want to operate on assumptions.

What to do: Ask a few people who are in your target market how they use certain tools.  But remember: you’re NOT selling to these folks. We’re simply asking their opinion.

2) Get exceptionally clear about what you know your business’s potential to be.

Marketing is notorious for giving you a glimpse of what you “could” have.

Flat abs! More followers! Whiter teeth! A tool that virtually pays for itself!

When it comes to marketing directed at your small business, start noticing all of the places “potential results” show up.

I always recommend you captaining your ship. Decide what YOU want your business’s potential to look like and you’ll feel less swayed by outside promises.

That may be doing incredibly rewarding work, making an impact, and having free time to enjoy your personal life.  Or that may look like being able to work less hours. Keep THAT potential front and center to combat the messages that tools hawk: “Get more followers!” “Get more fans!” “Get more ROI!”.

Those statistics can be helpful, but if you’re goal is to spend less time/energy/resources, you may need to reevaluate how well a tool may work for you.

3) Be careful the negative effects behind “Social Proof” 

Social proof, if you’re not familiar with the term, is the use of testimonials that a product/service delivered on its promises.  There’s a LOT of great things about social proof: it builds trust, it helps aid the sales process.

But there’s also a dark side: social proof can makes us think we’re incapable.  Social proof, if used incorrectly can be disempowering.

It used to be the interraction with a marketing too went like this:

Buy tool –> Tool doesn’t work –> Try again –> Tool STILL Doesn’t work –> Blame tool

With social proof, here’s where things can get dangerous:

Buy tool –> Tool doesn’t work –> Try again –> Tool STILL Doesn’t work –> Try again –> See social proof –> Hear how it works for everyone –> Try again –> Begin to doubt own capabilities.

That doubt is pervasive.
It’s the first step towards handing over marketing autonomy.

Be careful how seriously you latch on to social proof of something working for everyone. There’s likely a very logical reason why it isn’t working for you. Find out why before you blame it on anyone’s incapability. (Especially your own).

Strong self-directed business owners learn to stay in charge of the parade of marketing tools, and the first step to that kind of direction in in being aware of their promises of potential.

Why some business marketing companies miss the mark

There are legions of business marketing companies perched to work with entrepreneurs.

You’ve probably felt it: for any business marketing need you have, a search on Google will provide you with a litany of marketing companies eager to provide a solution.

This is one of the beauties of capitalism. Variety.

As an entrepreneur, maybe you sought a marketing company out, received referrals, or maybe they found their way to your front door (or inbox).

And it’s my hope that you received a great match AND great results.

But sometimes (unfortunately, all too often), things don’t quite work out the way you’d hoped.

With two decades in the small business marketing arena, I think I figured it out.

The simple reason business marketing companies fall short for entrepreneurs is simple,

they don’t take the time to pre-qualify clients.

Why is Pre-Qualifying Important?

Pre-qualifying clients makes amazing business sense, as it’s the foundation of building a relationship (something proven to be the most profitable way to market).

Pre-qualifying gives both the marketing company and the entrepreneurs a moment of space to ask important questions, see the whole picture and agree on the best solution/next steps.

Pre-qualifying occurs in nearly every industry.  Without pre-qualifying, a personal trainer would have you do push-ups without knowing about your back injury.  A contractor would bulldoze your home, not knowing you only wanted a room addition.  The person working behind the counter at your local sandwich shop would put mayo on your sandwich, unaware that you despise mayo.

Pre-qualifying is especially important when tailored solutions are needed.  And most challenges for small business aren’t solved by “set-it-and-forget-it” tools.

Pre-qualifying is about research, investigating, and most of all, listening.

These things take time, and in the rush-rush marketing world, many business marketing companies don’t have time.

They’ve built a business where it’s more efficient (i.e. less expensive) to run on assumptions.

How many times have you worked with someone who ran on assumptions?

How many times have you made assumptions, thinking it’d be easier than listening?

And in both scenarios, how many times have you had to go back and fix the errors?  (Aside: this is the reason it’s taken 4 years to finish my backyard.)

It’s the perfect storm

A business marketing company running on overload (and assumptions), and an entrepreneur who doesn’t know what “right questions” they should be asked by the marketing company.

Maybe you were caught in the aftermath of a storm like that.

Feeling bewildered or confused, a little wary and off-course.

So to keep that from ever happening again, let’s arm you with the questions you’ll want to hear, to know that the folks who are selling to you have a clue about you.

What questions should a business marketing company be asking me?

(AKA How to know if you’re being appropriately pre-qualified)

Depending on what they offer, a marketing company should ask you some mix of the following things:

  • What are your goals?
  • What have you tried in the past that’s worked?  What have you tried in the past that hasn’t worked?
  • What else are you doing right now, and how is it working?
  • What kind of resources do you have (time, money, energy) to devote to your marketing?
  • What length of time do you have to devote to this facet marketing?  Do you anticipate a quick win, or will your goals take some time to reach?

When they ask you these questions, here’s what they should really be listening for:

  • What are your goals?
    • They should be listening to hear what you want to happen for your business’s marketing and sales.  They should piece together an idea if you’re on the same page philosophically.
  • What have you tried in the past that’s worked?  What have you tried in the past that hasn’t worked?
    • This question gives them a bit of your history.  They should be listening to hear about the lessons you’ve already learned, along with your experience with your target market.
  • What else are you doing right now, and how is it working?
    • This question is CRUCIAL.  If they don’t ask this, RUN (don’t walk) away.  They need to be respectful of what you’re currently doing and have a very clear understanding of the landscape they are walking towards.
  • What kind of resources do you have (time, money, energy) to devote to your marketing?
    • Sure, this might feel uncomfortable for everyone, but this is the only way to understand if you’re looking for a hands-off solution, a hands-on solution, or something in the middle.  This also makes sure that you’re not overlooking some strength you’re carrying in your back pocket that you could fully utilize yourself.
  • What length of time do you have to devote to this facet marketing?  Do you anticipate a quick win, or will your goals take some time to reach?
    • The basis of this question is are you looking for a one-time event or an ongoing relationship with the marketing company.

And as you start becoming more aware of this type of questioning, you’ll be motivated to bring your best questions to the table.

While sometimes some of the pre-qualifying is done online by the marketing company, in advance of your meeting.  Sometimes their sales pages will support this process.

But know that as a business owner, it’s in your best interest to ensure that a marketing company is asking you the right questions, listening to your answers and doing due diligence on their end to make sure their product or service really is the best fit for your business based on your goals, target market, history and resources.

Because it’s your responsibility to steer the course of your ship and not let anyone, now matter how smart they are or how polished their tools, take the helm.

Knowing you’re being intelligently interviewed and pre-qualified is a great beginning step to ensuring you’re on the path towards marketing success.

What about you?

What are some smart questions you wait to be asked, knowing that who you’re talking to really wants to “get” you?

Post in the comments below!

Search Rank Breaking your Business’s Heart? Get in Good with your Customer’s Matchmaker

Something clients ask me all the time is

“How do I get higher ranked on search engines? And can I do it myself?”

They’re likely asking this because they feel no love in the online search space.

Coming up on page nine of the search results can feel like you got all dressed up to go to the dance and no one even noticed you were there.

You feel foolish. Sad. Maybe even angry.

All signs of heartache.

I’m here to let you know that it’s not your fault.

I know your business is pretty awesome.

I bet you know your stuff and have overcome incredible obstacles to get here.

And while all that love feels nice, you’re not fulfilling your dream of building a thriving business.

It’s damn frustrating to put in effort, time and money and still feel invisible.

I’m here to tell you that the reason you’re feeling left out is that you’re making this search process about you.  When it’s not.

  • It’s not about the quality of your work, how good you are, what a nice person you are, how much your friends like you.
  • It’s not about how much money you spent on your website or how different (better!) your biz now looks. Or how many real-life clients tell you how stellar you are.

I know you’re invested in all of these things.

But the online search game doesn’t get personal like that.

As a business owner, the first thing you have to understand is this: search engine’s don’t care about your preferences or what you think is the perfect offerring.

They care about being relevant and invaluable to their user.  

They want to build a strong customer base for the search service they provide. And to make money in the process.

You see, Search Engines are Matchmakers.

And their goal? To pair users (i.e. your customer) with the right “match” to their search.

The Matchmaker’s process is automated and constantly changing because they have
So. Many. Customers.

These Matchmakers have billions of clients to match dozens of times daily.

By overwhelming and growing demand, they’ve must be efficient, filtering out unfit suitors and prioritizing soulmates for their users.

Again. It’s not personal.

It’s about the Matchmaker.
Doing their job.
Keeping their business poppin’ with happy users.

And you?

Your business is one name among billions in the Matchmaker’s Rolodex.

The Matchmaker doesn’t like or dislike you. They DO like having you on file as an option. And the more complete your file, the better they know who’s a right fit for their user, and who is a dud.

Oh, and they’ve got to know you’ve got a pulse.

(‘Cause if they don’t see any movement from your file, they think maybe you got hit by a bus and stop matching you with people.)

Play to Win your Customer’s Heart

Seeing the Match Game for what it is, let’s figure out how you can get asked to dance.

(And with some work, you might still have a chance to be Prom Queen!)

To become a sexy, eligible match you’ll want to first ask yourself the following:

  • Who do I want to be matched with?

This is all about finding your soulmates, (AKA your target market, niche, ideal customer). The right fit for you.

Accept you’re not the right fit for everyone… but you’re the perfect fit for a whole lot of people. Learn about them before you can holla at ‘em.

  • Find out what your soul mates are looking for

This is all about their analyzing their needs, their search process, and the words they use. (Hint: This takes time and patience and empathy.)

But once you’ve found your target market, you’ve got to go deeper. Learn more about their interests. Learn about their needs. Learn about how they shop and how they buy.

And please, find out what makes them happy.

When you do this work, your confidence about how to present yourself to your ideal customer soars.

And accuracy in targeting them and converting them goes way, way up.

Once you’ve figured out who your soulmates are and why you’re a fit for them, you’ll notice the sun shines a little brighter, there’s a bounce in your step and a big confident grin you can’t shake.  You’ve got an approach that you feel good about.

You’re different than those business owners who end up hating the Matchmaker. And you’re certainly not desperately trying to appeal to the Matchmaker. Or, spending tons of money trying to pay the matchmaker to get you a warm body.

Coming up next: when you’re ready to gussy yourself up for the Matchmaker.