Keep sowing marketing seed, even in a drought

After 9/11, the business climate went dormant. I had just recently established a narrow position for my web design firm Newfangled, as a “web design and development partner for advertising agencies.” I began writing a monthly newsletter for our Agency Alliance program. I started building a list of agencies and design firm owners. Back then I had to use the yellow pages and a FileMaker Pro database. I engaged in cold calls to introduce our firm and services. I asked if I could add them to my email list. I built that list up to about 1,200 over three or four years.

Problem was, nobody had work. For three long years, I forced myself to add names to my list, and make at least 20 cold calls per day. That took me less than an hour each day. But it was the worst hour of my day unless I actually got through and found an interested agency owner, which was not a daily occurence. And even then, while they would say they were looking forward to working with us on their next project, we both knew that might still be some time down the road.

I had a quote written down over my phone to help me keep at it, day after dreary day.

“In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.”

Over those long years of recovery we managed to turn up a project here and there, and sustain ourselves, albeit shrunken, from twelve down to five.

And then something changed. In 2004-2005 the market recovered, and suddenly every company that had left their websites to languish over the past few years were seriously overdue for a redesign.

And apparently, while I kept sowing seed, morning and evening, those dormant seeds still lived. When the rains returned, we had hundreds of agency owners who had been reading our generous content over the years. The ground started to sprout, and then grow, and then overflow with produce. We quickly grew again, up to more than fifteen employees.

My current firm, Cuberis, has been focusing on museums for the past four years. It always takes time for a new positioning, and corresponding marketing activity, to take hold—even in a good economy. But museums are slow-moving institutions at the best of times. We’ve had some good success, but often I’ll write my monthly “INSIGHT: On Art & History Websites” newsletter, wondering if anyone is listening.

This week I’ve been reminded again of how important it is to sow marketing seed, and not stop, just because it seems like the winds aren’t cooperating. Apparently, since every museum has been closed, all my prospects suddenly have time on their hands. With only their website as a digital platform to rely on, they’re realizing that they aren’t up to snuff for our current challenge. This week I’ve gone from slow and steady marketing to opportunities coming out of the woodwork. It’s too soon to know if these opportunities will actually turn into projects, but clearly my audience has been listening. Those seeds have been just waiting—waiting for a little rain, and now they are starting to sprout.

I’m glad I added a second quote to that note above my phone back in the early 2000s and heeded its warning.

“He who observes the wind will not sow,
and he who regards the clouds will not reap.”

We’re all in for another long dry season. But there’s one thing you should not do in response to a downturn, and that’s to stop sowing your marketing seeds.

Get out there and plant. Keep writing content that validates your creative expertise. Keep reaching out, not with desperate pleas for work, but with helpful advice about how your prospects can manage through this crisis. This might not help you much this month, or next—but if you keep on sowing, morning and evening, telling the storm clouds to go pound sand, you’ll be laying up for yourself a future harvest.

Stick with the program. Now is not the time to give up.

Are you ready to take the struggle out of finding new clients?