Creatives often over rely on referral and word of mouth to find new clients. The two main liabilities in this dependence are the lack of control over client acquisition (when referrals wane, you really can’t do much about it), and that your client quality plateaus (referrals move horizontally across or down the influence ladder, rarely up it). In order to get control over your marketing, so that you can decide who to work with and what to charge, you have to maintain a deliberate and constant marketing program.
Marketing Programs Need Time to Grow
Marketing is a marathon, not a 100-yard dash. Building an effective marketing program takes time. That means if you start your marketing program today, you might start to see early results in about six months. Real traction starts somewhere between twelve to eighteen months later, and will increasingly bear fruit as you sustain it over the years.
The last thing you want to do is begin a marketing program after your referrals start to drop off. It’s when you’re doing well that you want to be investing in a solid marketing program that will sustain your future—not when things take a turn for the worse.
Catch-22: When You’re Busy, You Have No Time
Of course when things are going well, you’re more busy than ever. So you have even less time to invest in establishing a strategy, setting up systems, and producing and publishing content on a regular basis. This is a cycle of dysfunction that is all too common among creative professionals.
Another dynamic that causes you to keep kicking the marketing can down the road is the reality that of all the roles you have to fill in running your business, the marketing role is the only one that never gets in your face when you neglect it. If you neglect your finances, sooner or later the bank will let you know you have a problem. If you neglect your time and project management, you will start missing deadlines. If you neglect client communication, you will hear about it, or maybe you’ll just start losing clients. By the time you “hear” from your marketing it’s message may be too late.
Marketing Failure Lacks a Timely Feedback Loop
Every other role in your business has a built-in feedback loop that will require attention if you neglect them. But not marketing. You can ignore your marketing for months and years on end and there will be no feedback. Your marketing won’t start bouncing checks, your marketing will not demand that you stay up late or work weekends to meet a deadline. Your marketing won’t send you angry emails when you’ve dropped a ball. And so it’s the easiest of all business disciplines to ignore.
That is, you might ignore it until you find your pipeline has dried up and referrals have gone silent. But by then it’s far too late to start. Unless you get lucky and something completely outside your control swoops in to the rescue, a desperate dash of marketing will not help.
How Money Muddles Marketing
There is one more reason why marketing gets kicked to the curb, and that is lack of profits. In the creative services business, more often than not, your time is closely tied to your money. Most creative services are billed by the hour, or with fees based on an hourly rate and the time it will take to deliver. (By the way, this is not the ideal way to sell your services, but it is the most common.) When you are not in control of your marketing, then you are not in control of the kinds of clients you work with. This means that your clients will dictate your budgets, rather than the other way around. And when you’re relying on referrals, you’ll find that you’ll face perpetual downward pressure on your rates due to the downward trajectory built into the referral cycle.
So, if your profit margins are tight, then so is your time. And if you are experiencing tight time margins, which of all of your roles do you think will get sacrificed first? Yup, poor ole marketing, left out in the cold again.
A Better Trendline
Ironically, if you did exercise the business discipline of sustaining your marketing activity, the control you would gain would allow you to steadily increase your rates and fees, thus increasing your profit margins, leading to more freedom with your time. When you have that freedom, engaging in steady marketing habits will be all that much easier.
Marketing neglect is a downward spiral. Marketing effort is a steady course toward stability, control, and profitability.
Isn’t it time you stopped kicking your marketing can down the road?