There’s a term in business used for untrained sales people who have great results: “natural salesmen”. I’m not one of them. I had to work hard to improve my sales skills, and I still don’t feel like I’m particularly good at it. But marketing is a different story – I don’t remember a time when marketing was hard for me.
My marketing was the most effective when I wasn’t aware what I was doing is in fact marketing.
I was completely oblivious to the concept, yet I did things right. Where did I learn that? I have no idea. My theory is that the best kind of marketing is indistinguishable from a regular conversation people have in real life. The same skills we use to get around in relationships are essential to any marketing endeavor.
Then something happened and my marketing superpowers disappeared. As I became more and more immersed in the business side of things, learning from marketing experts – both in the office setting, and through blogs and online courses – I started overthinking it. I became focused on the results (as all the marketing experts advised), and paradoxically, my results got worse.
Now, this may also have something to do with the changes that happened in the past 15 years since I’ve started, and the fact that it’s much harder to stand out with quality content than it used to be. I don’t know all the reasons. But even today, I notice that when I do something just for fun, with no agenda, I get more attention and money sent my way than when I plan how my strategy is going to bring in the dough.
So here are the things I know.
1. If you genuinely want to help people, you can’t go wrong
Way back in 2004 I had a personal blog. People started to ask me tons of questions about design, so I started another blog to answer those questions. I had no idea that it would eventually get tens of thousands of readers and attract new paying clients. If that was my plan all along, I’m not so sure it would’ve happened.
Whenever you help someone, whether this results in business success or not, you’ve won.
2. If it feels icky, it probably is
That feeling of mild embarrassment as you’re preparing to do something may actually be a signal that you’re out of integrity. It doesn’t mean that the practice itself is wrong – just that you may be doing it for the wrong reasons, or that it’s not aligned with your core values.
Fear is different: when you feel fear, it means you’re at the edges of your comfort zone, and worry about the consequences, but at the same time you want to do the thing. Learn to differentiate when your emotions are yelling “Aaah, tiger!” and “This feels wrong in my bones”. (The first one isn’t real.)
3. Marketing can sometimes take years to “work”
Occasionally, results are instantaneous. You publish an article, and in a few weeks you get an email from an editor that would like you to contribute to a book.
Other times, a guy who’s been following you on DeviantART a decade ago recommends you to their boss for a project. The action and the result are so far apart, that you cannot even tell there is a cause-and-effect connection there, unless they outright tell you.
That’s why I believe it’s better not to be too attached to the results, and don’t dismiss the long term game.
4. If it’s not fun, you’re either doing things wrong, or doing the wrong things
Did I just imply marketing should be fun? You bet I did.
Life is hard in so many ways. We’re constantly fighting and striving and trying to get ahead, and what’s the point of it all if we don’t even get to have fun?
I’m not implying it should necessarily be easy, but even when you’re going out of your comfort zone and learning so many new concepts you feel like your brain will explode, it can still be enjoyable. There are literally hundreds of different tactics you could be using to grow your sales, why settle with the dull and boring ones?
Try using this criteria when choosing marketing activities for your next quarter and see what happens.
5. Don’t take those stats to heart
Visitors. Open rates. Unsubscribes. Retweets. Page likes. Comments. Page views… We could be here all day just comparing numbers and crying into our ice cream bucket.
Sean McCabe said this on one of his podcast episodes:
“The only numbers that matter are replies and dollars in my account. Everything else is irrelevant.”
What he meant to say is that the measure of how many lives you’re changing is how many email thank you notes and sales you get. Both of these are rewards for good work and good marketing – everything else is noise.
Sure, it’s great to improve your numbers like lowering your bounce rate, increasing your conversion rate, etc. and that will often lead to more sales, but don’t get fixated on them. And don’t compromise your integrity in order to reach bigger numbers.
6. Don’t limit yourself to what you see out there
Maybe there’s really nothing new under the Sun, and maybe you’ve just gotten an idea that’s so out there, no one has done it yet. If it sounds fun, do it.
It’s hard to stand out, so if you get a clever idea how you can do it, don’t wait for anyone’s permission.
7. When in doubt, talk to people
Fine, you’re an introvert. You’re an HSP. Welcome to the club! You still need to talk to people.
You can’t understand people from within your own head alone. We all have stories, and you’d be shocked to learn how different these stories can be. There are things that are so clear to you, that others never even bother to think about. There are things that have never occurred to you that someone would be glad to tell you.
A simple conversation with a few people from different walks of life can expand your vision so much and give you a ton of ideas – for new services, products, content, messaging…
The best thing is, you don’t even have to talk about your own business to learn this information. Just listen to people’s struggles, frustrations, desires and dig up what’s behind them. I’m sure you’re smart enough to connect the dots with your own business.
Also, psssst: the “dirty secret” of success is that it’s all about making personal connections.
8. Do what works until it stops working
One of the biggest regrets I have about my work is that I’ve stopped doing things that have initially brought me success.
- I’ve neglected personal art projects.
- I’ve stopped blogging for 6 years.
- I’ve stopped creating freebies.
Granted, it would be a bit difficult to keep doing all three at the same time, but had I just kept up with one, I might have grown my career way faster than I did.
I’m a creative rebel, and creative rebels always seek out new things to try and new ideas to pursue. That’s our blessing and a curse. If I could go back in time and deliver one message to my past self, it wouldn’t be “buy Google stocks”, or “careful, that guy is an abusive jerk” (though it would’ve been useful), it would be:
“Pay attention to what works, and do more of it.”
9. Mediums change, principles stay the same
If you rely on formulas and tactics, they’ll only work for a while, until everyone else catches on and your marketing becomes indistinguishable from other people’s.
Smart marketers learn the underlying principles, and are able to apply them to new mediums.
Principles like reciprocity (people are compelled to return a favor), storytelling (people are more interested in true or invented stories than facts alone), and open loops (people are compelled to find out the ending of a story they’re hooked to). When you understand them, you can see why people click “read more” buttons or “download this guide to learn 6 more tips”, and why many hate popups that show up before they’ve had a chance to read your post.
You no longer need an expert to tell you that exit intent popups are better than those that show up immediately, or that you should make a content upgrade that’s a logical sequel to the blog post. You’ll be able to deduce that on your own.
And even better – you’ll figure things out before they become common knowledge, and enjoy the benefits while others are busy running around with a bucket to collect the wisdom droplets of marketing big shots.
Marketing doesn’t have to be overwhelming or take a ton of time
If there’s anything I want you to take from this post, it’s this: you can absolutely do things in a way that’s simple and feels good to you. There are many ways to bridge the gap between what you love doing, and what other people would pay for, and you only need to find what the ideal way for you is.
Create a marketing plan that helps you reach people who matter by focusing only on a few activities you do regularly. Download the Authentic Promotion Guidebook (no email signup required) and use the worksheets to find out what the best content types and marketing channels are for you.
You already have plenty of information in your head, now you just need to learn how to choose what’s useful for you. I hope this helps.
About Nela Dunato
Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps experienced service-based businesses impress their dream clients.
On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...
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