Episode 8: Marketing Lessons From the Trash Heap

Getting control over your sales and marketing is the brass ring every creative entrepreneur is reaching for. But the reality is that steady sales and marketing are the result of diligent effort in proven and repeatable methods. Not on luck, or on a desperate reach.  
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Are you ready to take the struggle out of finding new clients?

In the early years of my first creative startup I tried every marketing technique imaginable. I ran ads in the local business journal, bought booths at trade shows, sponsored public radio, sent out direct mail, made cold calls, bought Ad words, attended networking events, hired a PR firm to get press, and even went so far as to offer to bring a free chocolate cake in exchange for an opportunity to make a capabilities presentation. And after all that effort and expense hardly any of it paid off.

Part of my problem was that my firm was positioned as a generalist. We offered web design and development to whoever needed it and had a decent budget. And when you’re a generalist what can you really say to a general audience that differentiates you from all the others? You might claim greater creative talent, better design, but such evaluations are ultimately in the eye of the beholder. You can claim greater skill, but can a prospect really validate that? If our prospects could evaluate well structured html, css, and performant javascript they probably didn’t need us. You can claim better service, but which of your competitors advertises that they have bad service? And then there’s price, that is an objective measure, but do you really want to be in that race to the bottom?

You see the problem I was facing was not the methods of marketing. Advertising, direct mail, onlive ads, and all the others (except perhaps for that terrible cake idea) are all potentially effective channels. It’s the message that you deliver in those channels that matters. Prospects ultimately care about their own needs, not your capabilities. If they see a solid match between their specific needs and your experience you’ll get a response. If they only hear your vague claims of being somewhat better at delivering the same thing all your competitors deliver, perhaps at a slightly lower price, it will be just so much background noise.

The irony is that most creatives understand the need to establish a focused message and clear brand identity when they are advising their clients. They ask all the right questions pertaining to understanding their audiences and speaking to their needs. But they just can’t seem to apply the same thing to themselves.

But if you can get more focused in your message, targeting specific solutions, for particular kinds of clients, your marketing efforts can be transformed from desperate cake delivery to qualifying the best clients for you from a host of opportunities seeking your help.

In the next episode I’ll tell you how I turned all those futile marketing efforts into a business development platform that changed our problem from “how do we find clients” to “which clients do we want to work with this quarter.” But I have to warn you, you might have trouble with the answer. It shouldn’t really be all that surprising or mysterious since you already understand it when you work for your clients—but to move away from being a generalist as a creative, and to find a focus for your messaging, is surprisingly resisted by most creatives.

I think there’s something about the essence of the artistic identity of creative entrepreneurs that has such a difficult time settling down and getting focused in applying their expertise.

So until next week: don’t let the business of creativity overwhelm your creative business.