“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” – Simon Sinek, Start with Why
When I started Bright Pink Agency, almost 10 years ago, my “why” was very different than it is today. I was a good designer and I saw an opportunity to capitalize on my talent and the few things I had learned in my previous agency life. Having lived in the US just for two years and being completely oblivious to concepts such as “the economy”, I hadn’t realized that there was a “recession” happening and businesses were closing left and right. It’s probably best that I didn’t, because I didn’t let anyone discourage me.
My “why” at that time knowing that I could run a design studio way better than my former boss. How Millennial of me, wasn’t it? He had even “promised me” that if I tried landing any freelance work showing work I had done for his company, he would personally make sure I never found a job in South Florida again. Sadly for him, a few short months later, his business had just about closed. Mine had just opened.
As time went on, having added a few more people to my agency, and a few more people to my family – my “why” had changed: I was no longer trying to prove a point and make a living on my own terms, I had to make sure that at the end of the month, everyone was taking home a paycheck; including me. Meanwhile, to make things interesting, I found myself as the sole provider to my family and paid whatever money I had left to my divorce attorney. No pressure, right?! There were just a couple of rough years and – had I had any sense, I should have called it quits and gotten a job, because, after all, 50% of small businesses fail after 5 years, don’t they? Another tidbit of wisdom I didn’t know back then.
Bright Pink Agency did survive our own personal “recession” because we never compromised on the quality of our work, and we stayed flexible and adaptable, seizing new opportunities to provide more value to our clients by adding new services. What had started as me designing logos and ads, scooping clients off of Craigslist, had become a full-service marketing agency that handles any job where a business needs to combine words with images to create a message to send to their customer. That can mean producing full websites, packaging, displays, any print or digital media for events and conventions, and more.
But I’m not writing all this just to give you a history of Bright Pink Agency, although I know it’s quite the movie script (hey, my Mom would watch it!). Here’s where I’m trying to get to:
After almost a decade in marketing, I’ve noticed the following things about our customers: they basically fall into one of these two categories:
Group I. On one hand, we have established businesses that have been growing constantly and found in us a marketing partner that handles most of their needs (except for media buying, which is highly specialized and best left to agencies that do just that).
Group II. On the other hand, we have the startups, plus some established businesses that have plateaued and came to us in the search of a “fix”. They needed specific jobs – such as a logo, a website or a marketing brochure.
So we gave that solution.
We designed them a great logo, yet that wasn’t enough for people to know who they were.
We built them a great website, but prospects weren’t magically finding them.
We put together beautiful marketing brochures, but the customers weren’t lining up at the door like the Apple store on the morning of each new iPhone release.
Was there anything I missed?
What went wrong?
After all, the work we did for them was the same quality, based on the same principles, and even designed and developed by the same people as the work we did for our most successful clients.
The Dart Factory
Why was it that some of them were thriving and some were just spinning their wheels?
The closer I studied this category of clients, the more patterns I started to notice. All these clients for which marketing just “wasn’t working”, had quite a few things in common:
- they were all small businesses, owner-operated
- these owners wear many hats
- they are short on time and tight on budget
- they’ve built their business through networking and referrals, but
- they realized they’re having a hard time to scale up, at which point
- they start implementing whatever marketing trick they think they know would work
- or they don’t do any marketing at all
- they often try DIY marketing, which is the equivalent of spending time to save money
- not realizing that time is the only resource they can’t make more of and is already scarce due to the many hats
- and that all these marketing tactics they had been implementing is the equivalent of shooting darts in the dark: sure, some will hit the target, but can they really afford to waste any?
I bet you know quite a few businesses like this. Heck, mine was one of them! With a significant difference: we’re the dart factory, which means that we don’t pay for them, we know pretty well how to throw them since that’s all we do, and if we miss a few it’s not too big of a deal, because we can play the game anytime we want (after the paying customers go home).
What did the successful businesses do that the struggling ones didn’t do?
The Marketing Plan
They had a plan. They actually had more than a plan, they had a goal and a strategy that targets that goal, and then they implemented tactics that followed their strategy.
Many small business owners think of this as something abstract – and they never create one. They just use the little time or budget they have for marketing to throw darts in the dark and hope they hit the target. They try to mimic what big brands do or they try to go with whatever the newest trend is (social media, currently, is the single most named marketing tactic that small business owners said they would implement in 2018 – according to a study by Infusionsoft).
Our New Why
The reality is that the marketing plan is the difference between successful marketing and guesswork marketing. It makes such an impact, that we actually decided to restructure the way we offer our marketing services to our clients, to make sure every client that comes to us in search of a logo, a website or a campaign, first goes through a process that identifies: marketing tactics they need to invest in, how they will benefit them and – if turns out that it won’t benefit them – what to do instead. Basically, it changed our why.
This is our new mission: to be like a wealth advisor for our clients’ marketing dollars: we’ll show them where they will grow.
Before I continue, let’s establish who needs marketing and who doesn’t.
If you’re satisfied with how your business runs now, you have a steady flow of clients, that come via word-of-mouth and networking, and don’t want to scale up, then you probably don’t need marketing. There’s nothing wrong with that. I have a friend who is also in marketing, she is an absolutely brilliant consultant. She has a good handful of clients that she works with on an ongoing basis, she meets people constantly, but she hates the idea of managing people, and doesn’t market her services at all. She doesn’t even have a website, just a LinkedIn profile. This works for her, she is happy and has no intention of scaling up.
However, if any of the below applies to you, marketing is a must:
- you want to grow your client base
- you want better clients (bigger projects, higher value services, wealthier, less troublemakers and time wasters)
- you want to scale your business – add more people, more services or products etc.
- you want to keep making money when you sleep, go on vacation or are sick with the flu
- you want to keep your business running if anything were to happen to you – if you become temporarily disabled
- you want to one day sell your business
So, we’ve already established that marketing without a plan is a waste of money.
If you decided you want to market and don’t have a marketing plan, then please start creating one before you spend another dime on marketing – of any kind, be it SEO, Facebook ads or just an ad in the PTO’s newsletter.
If you already have a marketing plan, or if or if you have no interest in scaling up, or if you work for a company that already does marketing for you – please share this with a small business client/friend/acquaintance that wants to grow and scale-up too.
Here are some really important questions that will help you create your marketing plan. I will consider only services because that’s the most applicable to my clients. However, this also applies to some product-based businesses.
1. What are you selling?
- Out of all the services you provide, which one is your favorite?
- If you had the option to do just one aspect of your work, what would that be?
- What part of your work you dislike the most or absolutely hate?
- What is the most profitable service that you sell?
(Note that the most profitable service might not be your favorite service. Nor the most expensive.)
You’ve probably heard of the Pareto principle, also called the 80-20 rule: at any given time, 80% of your revenue come from 20% of your customers (or types of customers), 80% of results come from 20% of efforts, and so on. What if you were going to work with more of your most profitable customers? What if you were going to concentrate your efforts on getting those jobs, rather than any project or customer that comes your way? How would that feel?
But how do you get there?
2. Who are you selling to?
Everyone is not your customer. If you market to everyone, your message is diluted and gets lost. We are constantly bombarded with information and offers and solicitations everywhere you look. And we’ve all gotten pretty good at ignoring them. When you see an ad with a laundry list of services, it goes over our heads – who’s got time to read all that?
The secret is relevancy: focus your marketing message to the group of people that are going to say – “hey, I need that!” With every marketing message you put out there, think deeply and narrowly. Say, I’m looking to get new headshots for myself and my team for our new website.
Who am I most likely to pay attention to: an ad that lists photography services in a long list – events, weddings, babies, maternity, family shots, product photography, headshots, and more… Or an ad that says: “headshots for busy entrepreneurs and their teams”?
The more you know about your customers, the better your can craft your message to reach them.
3. Define your client persona
Considering the service you defined at the previous step: define your typical ideal customer as a real person.
Go in great detail.
Give him a face (stock photo), name, age, education, occupation, income and family status
What is his background (in relation to your services; i.e. if you are a realtor, where is he living? why does he want to move?)
What publications is he reading? (online and offline)
Does he have any hobbies? How does he spend his free time?
How did he find you?
What are his challenges?
What are his pain points?
His biggest fears?
Why did he choose you as his service provider?
If you want to see how other companies defined their client personas, there are numerous examples online, just Google “client persona”. Some companies will need more than one client persona – it’s not unusual to have 2 or 3 for the different categories of clients.
If you’re having a hard time identifying this, you may find it useful to list all your “ideal clients” from the past 1-2 years and try to find common character traits. You may find out that most of your clients are between 35-45, married with school-aged children, have a household income of $150k, spend their free time doing outdoor activities, read the Huffington Post, etc. It’s ok to take guesses to fill in the blanks, it’s not an exact science. I don’t actually know my clients’ tax return figures, of course (but if you’re running an accounting business, you do!)
The more you can make your client persona feel like a “real person”, the easier it is to “talk to him” every time you produce a marketing message. Pay special attention to the challenges, pain points, and biggest fears – they help drive the message home.
In my earlier example where I was searching for a headshot photographer – what are my pain points? I don’t have time to look for one, I’m not thrilled at the prospect of hauling everyone, on a workday, to the studio, and then I don’t want to have to pay “extra” to get the digital files, and the releases, etc.
What if the ad said: “We come to your office and give you fully released, edited digital files in 1 week”. How’s that for driving the message home?
4. Define your brand – this is where your “why” comes through
What is the “one thing” you want people to remember about what you do?
What do you “stand against” in your industry? (what do you hate about your industry that you think you can do better?)
What is your “voice” and your brand personality? Based on what you decided on above, how will you be speaking to your customers? What will draw their attention? What will set you apart from other businesses offering the same service?
5. Assess your brand
Now, take a good look at your brand today and see how it fits with the findings in the previous three sheets. What would your client persona, Mark or Sally whatever name you gave them, think about your marketing message? Do they relate to it? How can you tweak it to fit better to your brand personality?
Your logo – rate it through your client’s eye [very irrelevant] — [most relevant]
How would you change it to make it better?
Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) (or your elevator pitch) – rate it
How would you make it more relevant?
Your marketing collateral – your business card, letterhead, brochures, proposal template etc. – rate it
What should be different?
Your website [very irrelevant] — [most relevant]
How would you change it?
Your copy text (everywhere) [very irrelevant] — [most relevant]
What should it sound like?
The best plan is only useful if it’s implemented and carried through. Now that you figured out what needs to be done for your marketing to be effective, then you can say “I need a logo, I need a website, I need targeted Facebook ads, I need a newsletter marketing campaign, I need social media…”
What’s the best way to reach your ideal clients? Where would they find out about your services? What is their normal “buying” process? Are your marketing assets meeting their expectations?
Were they referred to you by a friend?
Then they are probably checking out your website to learn more about you. What do they want to know there? Your experience, your accreditations, case studies? Your prices? If they don’t commit right away, what do they do?
Did you come up in a Facebook ad?
Does that ad lead to a landing page that assures them you can handle the specific problem or challenge they’re facing? Is the offer clear and concise? Are there plenty of credibility checkpoints, such as reviews, client testimonials, seals and badges, “as seen in…” etc.? Are they getting valuable information?
Did you show up in a Google search?
Are you showing up in local searches? Is your Google My Business on point? Do you have reviews setting you apart from your competitors? Are you using Google Posts to stand out? is your website mobile-friendly?
Were they a customer before?
Are you keeping in touch with former customers? What about the regular customers? Are you sending them valuable information to stay at the top of their mind when a need for your services arrives?
List some marketing tactics that you think are relevant for your customers.
I know this is a lot and it takes quite some time to come up with these answers.
One of the biggest challenges is that of stepping outside of your own persona and seeing things from your customer’s perspective. Talking to them at their level. Your industry jargon may be very clean and familiar to you, but when you write or speak to your clients, consider that their knowledge of your jargon is that of a fourth-grader.
The other challenge: how do you know what you need, what’s right for you? You don’t, not without putting some significant time into educating yourself in modern marketing tactics, and who’s got time for that? Would you start taking up accounting classes at the local community college to do your own accounting? Or study plumbing to fix your own sink?
You could – but you might end up like my friend Scott, who wanted to save a few hundred dollars by fixing his own sink, and was pretty proud of himself after he spent the entire weekend doing it, only to go out to dinner and come back to a house sitting in 5” of water because he had overtightened the compression fitting, thinking tighter is better until it popped. He saved a few hundred, then paid a few thousand in deductibles to what ended up being a $40k job and a very angry wife who was without a kitchen for weeks.
So, don’t be Scott when it comes to marketing. Don’t throw darts in the dark. Marketing is not an expense, it’s an investment. And it’s measurable. Whatever you put into it, comes back in as new customers, new sales, new deals.
At Bright Pink Agency, we’ve been doing implementation since the beginning of time (alright, our time). As of this year, I’m adding a new service called Marketing Zero: that’s the step before Step 1. It’s the marketing plan. I personally sit down with the client, or their executive team, face-to-face or via Skype if they are not local, and I spend a few hours (anywhere from two to six!) going through every step of the way. I help them identify their hero service, define their ideal client, their brand voice and personality, analyze their existing materials, their strengths and weaknesses, and come up with a plan for implementations, complete with pricing.
The cost of this service is listed on our website, and we can also implement the recommendations if the client decides to pursue the proposed implementation with us. Or, they have the option to take the plan and implement it with their own vendors.
So, if you know someone who is starting a business, or someone with an established business that wants to grow, or if you want this for yourself – please contact us.
(This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.)