The Cult of Online Marketing
"I'm going to offer coaching for sensitive men...you know, to help them increase their vulnerability so they can be better partners," she explained to me.
I was a on a business coaching call with a new website client.
"Have you worked with any sensitive male clients and gotten results?" I asked.
"One. A friend. It went great! I'm really good at this."
And then she proceeded to list all the technology she was going to need to create her coaching business: website, auto-responder, lead-magnet, polls, shopping cart, and the list went on and on...and got more expensive with each excited breath she took.
Here's the deal:
I'm all for using marketing tools to expand your reach; but when you are starting out with your business, JUST DO THE WORK. Period.
I think it's very easy to get brainwashed into the cult of online marketing (yes, I did too).
We drink the kool-aid of conversions, platforms, tribes, customer avatars, and list-building until we're so drunk that our ability to take action is literally numb with information overload and overwhelm.
Plus, we dump so much money into courses, products, and systems - with the intent of crossing necessary must-haves off our list - that we're too exhausted and broke to do what really matters... the actual work.
You need to know something
(and I had to learn this the hard way):
People don't buy concepts. They buy solutions. If you are not offering actual solutions to uncomfortable problems, for real people, then you won't have a business. It's that simple.
In the early days of your business - whether you're a coach, restauranteur, salon owner, contractor, or painter - the only way to know if you're offering a solution to a painful problem is to do the work - your work - in very simple and inexpensive ways. At this stage, doing the work (without buying a bunch of fancy shortcuts with big promises) is a critical investment in your business.
As you work your idea - in other words, as you offer what you are guessing people need and want - you will learn how your idea must be evolved, stretched, re-imagined, and tweaked so it can take the form it needs to in order to become the basis for an actual business that creates income.
I don't recommend overloading your idea with a bunch of expensive online marketing tools right off the bat, because your work (no matter what industry you're in) is going to evolve. And the key here is: your business needs, needs, needs to evolve based on results, not marketing theory and fluff.
I used to work as a project manager for a video game development team and in those circles, the process of trying, testing, and tweaking is called LEAN.
Because technology changes so rapidly it doesn't make sense to build anything based on concept or trends alone. As Sean Ellis points out in his book entitled Lean Startup Marketing,
"The only way to know if a product will resonate is to get actual users on it - and the sooner the better. If the product isn't striking a nerve, it's better to delay an aggressive go to market push. Many startups succeed with a refined vision rather than their original product."
I believe this is an excellent perspective whether you are a startup tech company or a custom pillow artist.
As my brother - who does own a tech company - puts it "your business can't run until it learns to walk. It can't walk until it figures out how to crawl. Throughout each phase of development, new coordination needs to be gained, and new muscles need to be strengthened. This takes practice. It takes trying and falling. It takes adjusting and trying again. And then repeating the process over and over."
You can't build your business on theory learned in a webinar,
just like you can't become fluent in a language solely from reading a text book.
I learned this the way I learn everything...the hard (work) way.
When I was starting out as a personal life coach, I had the idea I wanted to work with overwhelmed people who deeply desire to feel calmer and happier. I did an aggressive online marketing push to get clients. Facebook ads, auto-responders...the works!
In addition (thank goodness) I also did the work. I taught free classes within my community. I spoke at networking events. I coached pro bono. I practiced. I listened. I tweaked.
As a result I learned I was a really good coach. But I made another stressful discovery: I learned the burnt out people my work deeply resonated with were overwhelmed moms. I loved these women.
But here's the dream crusher...
Overwhelmed moms - by and large - don't have wiggle room in their budget for personal life coaching.
I assumed my coaching days were over. I was heartbroken because I thought I had found my dream job.
I started assembling my resume.
About that time, my brother offered me an overflow project that his team didn't have the bandwidth to take on. It was a website design job.
By this point I had been using Squarespace for about two years and had grown to love its flexibility, ease, and affordability. Website design had become a bit of an obsession for me. I studied, practiced, and experimented every chance I got.
So I took the job. I needed the money anyway.
I discovered client website creation is the perfect fusion
of my design, project management, and life coaching passions.
Initially I was scared to go down this path because let's face it...there are many talented web designers in the world.
But my initial client experiences taught me that my ability to guide people through their technology and brand confusion with simplicity - thanks to my coaching and project management background - makes my website design solution unique. It also solves an expensive problem for people. One they will gladly pay me to resolve.
I approached things simply and started to do the work.
At one of my first networking group meetings - where I timidly called myself a website designer - a woman and I entered into a conversation. She proceeded to tell me how unhappy she was with her website. I listened intently to the words she used to describe her situation. As we nursed our drinks and relaxed into our dialogue, I shared specific ways I could solve her problems.
I sold a website package right on the spot. My client (and now friend) said, "That sounds like just what I need. I want it. Send me an invoice tomorrow and let's get started."
I couldn't believe it.
Her happiness led to a client referral. And that one led to another one, and then another, and then another...
Each client project guides me to tweak and refine my solutions - which guides my marketing, rather than the other way around.
It occurred to me during one client call that I am doing exactly what I set out to do which is: I'm working with overwhelmed people who desire to feel calmer and happier. Thanks to some trial and testing (and chocolate), the form of my work has evolved.
Now my ideal client isn't a stressed out mom who can't afford me. It's a smart business owner who wants a gorgeous, affordable, and effectively designed website that is created during a collaborative coach-like experience. The process feels fun, easy, and uncomplicated from start to finish.
Not only do my clients get a wonderful website that is easy to create, maintain, and grow BUT (and most importantly) I help them clarify their offers before we create so much as a button for their site. This means they don't end up buying a bunch of third party services to support a rickety business model.
By doing the work and making adjustments based upon insights that spring from real results - as opposed to theory and hope - my business, skills, brand, and simple + soulful solutions continue to become increasingly fine tuned.
I am adding tools to run and market my business as I truly need them instead of setting up an expensive system of complicated applications to support an unsubstantiated idea.
If you are just starting your business or revamping and taking things in a new direction...
Do the work.
Clarify whether you solve problems people will pay for.
Make adjustments to your solutions based on the results you get.
Add marketing tools that are informed by your results rather than your best guesses.