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Confessions of a Marketing Slacker (and How I Recovered in a Lurch)

antisocial youthIf you’re a business owner, you can probably think of a time when your back was against the wall.

When you look back on it, you didn’t know how you’d pull through or even if it was possible. Maybe you were hit with unexpected expenses, equipment failure, or the departure of a key employee. Maybe you lost a couple big clients all in one month. Or maybe something in your family or personal situation changed.

You couldn’t really change what happened. Some if it was outside your control.

But now, you really wish you hadn’t slacked off on your marketing.

Whatever your story, it forced you to get creative real quick.

The Life Change That Made Me Do a Happy Dance

My corporate job was eliminated this past April after 19 years. I had seen the changes coming, so it wasn’t unexpected. I had taken the time to prepare and was more than ready for a new challenge. I even did quite inappropriate happy dances in the hallways (mostly privately) after I heard the news.

I lived a double life for many years. I’m a music teacher and songwriter and I have owned a lesson studio for 10 years. I ran it as a part-time business in the evenings in addition to my full-time job. So I had “something to fall back on”.

I love music, writing, and entrepreneurship. I lost interest in the management fast track early in my corporate career and I have known for years that the only real promotion I wanted was to full-time self-employment. So when the opportunity came, I knew I had to make it work.

Once my happy dance stage wore off, the loss of my main income did force me to get clear and ramp up my business quickly.

A business that works for you instead of the other way around

How well does your business fit with the life you want to live now? What about your vision for the future? If your life changes, will your work flex also?

When I bought my company it was a retail store and lesson studio. I intended to grow it to the point where I could work at it full-time, but that never happened. My money got tied up in inventory, I made other costly mistakes, and soon found I needed to keep my day job to pay off the debt.

The first few years I worked like gangbusters 6 days a week with as many as 8 part-time employees. As you can imagine, the pace was unsustainable and I quickly burned out. I backed off, adopted a more manageable schedule and found good mentors. With their help, I doubled my prices and learned that I could make the same money in much less time. I started to take a longer-term view and used my free time to do things I enjoy – like writing songs and recording a CD.

There were times when I just let the studio run on auto-pilot.

It’s not like I was doing no marketing at all. I have some reliable sources of new business that I’m always working at. I just wasn’t pushing hard to grow the business.

But when my job situation changed, it was time for my business to grow up and support me.

Traps that lure business owners into slacking off from marketing

Over the years, I’ve seen some common reasons that entrepreneurs slack off on marketing and I am guilty of many of them.

I had a modest vision for my studio while I was employed, because it was all I could manage at the time and because it fit with my lifestyle. I wanted my studio to be small and flexible. I love teaching and I’m good at it, but I never wanted to teach full-time or manage a large music school. I have always wanted an online business.

There are trade-offs to every decision. Had I pushed a little more, or got the right support sooner, I could have been making more money from the business all along. I might have been in a much better position to replace my full-time income when the time came.

It’s OK if you accept trade-offs, as long as you are aware of the costs.

Can you relate to these challenges?

Juggling too much – I put big marketing campaigns on the back burner because I couldn’t take on any more work and my support network was weak.

Unresolved business issues – I wanted to make some personnel, system, and location improvements before I tried to grow larger again. I did make them, but it took time.

Lack of support, or lack of the right support – I had assistants, but they didn’t always have the skills or follow-through that I needed. It can be hard to find local people who understand online marketing for instance. I had to get comfortable hiring and managing remotely.

Fear – I didn’t want to be overwhelmed, overextended, sick, and burned out again.

No real urgency – I didn’t absolutely need the money. I had a steady income, so a part-time income was fine with me. As long as the business was cash flowing and I was paying off my initial debt, I was happy.

Other interests and priorities – I wanted to pursue songwriting and blogging, for example – and I wanted to have a life. Developing my other interests turned out to be a very good decision, because they increased my value as teacher and coach.

What money or opportunities are you leaving on the table and are you okay with that?

Making Up For Lost Time

All entrepreneurs get off-track sometimes. I had neglected marketing but I had other advantages. I took stock and leveraged all these to get back on course…

  • 10 years of experience learning what worked and most importantly what didn’t,
  • Some discretionary funds,
  • More time than before,
  • Support people who understand blogging, social media marketing, etc.,
  • Better systems in place for lead tracking, student registration, scheduling, and invoicing, and
  • Clear income motivation.

Formulating a Master Plan for World Domination

I worked through an analysis using Danny’s Business Optimization Framework  from his free video training. (If you haven’t done it yet, I highly recommend it.) I used this structure to clarify my plans and priorities. I decided on these in priority:

  1. Getting more leads – First, I stepped up local marketing efforts. I decided to test new approaches and to continue to do a lot more of the things that have worked well for me in the past.
  2. More customers – I handled the entire sales effort personally for a while, recording calls (with peoples’ permission of course), and updating my scripts so that I can once again turn over the phones and scheduling to my assistant.
  3. Deal value – I planned more classes to re-build my funnel and stressed the ways we go above and beyond for our students during the off-hours.
  4. Good Karma – I will continue to stress good customer relationship building to the team, develop a free downloadable guide for prospective students, and blog about studio activities in the community and my charity involvements.
  5. Repeat customers – I plan to develop or revive programs to retain students longer and re-engage former students.

Quick Fixes to My Lead Generation Strategies

I had only a few weeks in which to act because of the time of year. It was late spring. School would be out soon and people were making their summer plans.

1. Offering New Services to Previous Clients

Find some complementary service or product you can offer to people you’ve worked with before. Maybe you can help solve a more advanced problem that clients experience after being on their own for a while.

Summer can be chaotic for music lessons because of family vacations, pool time, etc. It can be hard to pin people down to a regular schedule. I wanted short, flexible programs that would attract new students and re-engage former students, and yet not be too much of a commitment. I created 4-week programs that were light on instruction and heavy on singing and playing. The goal was simply to whet students’ appetites for more serious study in the fall.

Takeaway – practice being creative with your offerings within your constraints, esp. when you have to launch quickly or at a difficult time of year. Have some options in your back pocket you can implement quickly when needed.

2. Warming Up Cold Leads

You might hesitate to try this, not wanting to come across as overly pushy or “salesy”. But it’s definitely worth your effort to reach out, and customers often appreciate it.

I usually have either email addresses or phone numbers from my lesson inquiries. I went through my list from the last few months – people I had spoken to but who hadn’t committed, and reconnected with them. I got one student from that tactic this summer, but I had several people who expressed interest in starting in the fall (our usual busy time.)

Takeaway – have a good tracking system in place for your leads. Make sure it’s sharable if you have an assistant. Don’t be afraid to follow up occasionally – many people are interested but get busy and simply forget.

3. Getting Referrals From Existing Clients

Are referrals working for you? Do you have a referral system in place?

Word-of-mouth referrals have always worked well for me, especially as time went on. I have been established in my area for over 10 years. I am always surprised by the number of people who remember me and refer people years later.

The most important thing I’ve found is to simply keep up the communication. I have created good relationships over the years. When I started telling people of my job change and that more of my efforts would be going into the studio, most are more than willing to help.

A couple of years ago I put a referral program into place. I have posters and cards around the studio so that people see them every week. I email my list occasionally. We’ve gotten a few students from it. But I’ve gotten a lot of feedback – especially from my more loyal clients – that they are happy to refer people to me and they’re not so concerned about the free lesson.

Takeaway – It’s worthwhile to have a formal referral program in place, but you might find your most loyal customers don’t care much about the incentives.

4. Repeating What Has Worked For Me Over the Years

New strategies are always tempting. Test them, but not at the expense of your tried-and-true tactics.

I have several marketing strategies that I’ve had good success with over the years and that now mostly run on auto-pilot. First, our location has been in my town for over 25 years. People know about it. I have signage on a main street. I have a web page that works nicely (although it can always be better and I’m constantly working on that) and I have a big-box instrument store that doesn’t do lessons and provides a good number of referrals for me.

I ask every new student how they found out about us.

Takeaway – If something’s working well, don’t abandon it. Keep doing what works! And have some way to track where new customers are coming from.

5. Testing and Using New (To Me) Marketing Tactics

If you’ve ever lost money on advertising that didn’t work, you can understand why I cautiously test everything now. I wasted a lot of money in my early years on paid advertising because I didn’t know any better. Since then I’ve been very conscientious about reviewing advertising opportunities and making sure they are targeted to the exact people I want to reach.

It helps to have a community of small business owners to share experiences. I was intrigued by some colleagues’ successes with door hangers. I wanted a low-cost way to test the effectiveness before I spent much.

In a short time, I recruited some friends and we distributed about 1200 door hangers in local neighborhoods and about 300 to local businesses I have relationships with.

Takeaway – When time is short and you want to test inexpensively, don’t be afraid to hoof it.

6. Setting the Stage for a New Income Stream with a Blog

If you’re reading on this site, I probably don’t have to convince you of the importance of content marketing.

From the beginning, my dream has been to have a strong online presence. My early years in the trenches were a great learning ground. I gained valuable experience.

Over time, more people started coming to me for business advice as well as referring their friends to me for music lessons. So my coaching business grew naturally out of what I was already doing. My work now includes helping other entrepreneurs to make good full- or part-time livings with their art without going broke, living in their cars, or starving to death.

I’ve made blogging for my music site more of a priority, and I have launched another blog for my coaching site. The two will work hand in hand for the time being.

Takeaway – Teach people something and communicate the value you deliver through your blog. Let your content sell your products and services to the point that you are their only option.

Results

In a few weeks, I developed a short-term plan and executed it. I got eleven new students for myself and several for other teachers in my studio – a nice, last-minute summer lift. I was pleased enough with our results to commit to a larger scale effort for the fall.

If You’ve Fallen Off the Marketing Wagon

It’s easy to get discouraged when faced with the double-whammy of a life change and a business that isn’t performing where you need it to. Take stock of your assets, advantages, and all the things you’re doing right and build on those. Have some contingency plans in place for unexpected situations and always be thinking of quick, flexible, and inexpensive fixes you can keep in your back pocket to pull out when you need them.

As long as you have good, solid product and service offerings and happy customers, it’s really just a matter of getting the word out. Make your business work for you and be a life-saver and insurance policy in tough times, rather than another drain on your energy.

After all, we are living the dream, right? Right!

37 comments

  1. Personally, I’ve worked like mad for over 6 years without finding out what works for me because the few sales I do have come out of the blue and I don’t get much feedback despite asking. I used to do a lot more than now but I had to reduce the amount of work for my health.

    I’m still very visible and building relationships on social media. I’m more structured in my marketing and my website is also a lot clearer now than it was. It’s been that way since September but the only change I’ve seen has been more followers, not more clients.

    To save my hands a bit (chronic joint pain), I’ve started making more videos instead of writing even more. I hope that will increase the know-like-trust factor to where cross the edge I’ve been standing at for so long.

    I don’t have many previous clients to reach out to but I do stay in touch and make sure they don’t feel forgotten about.

  2. Wow! Such a great time for me to read this post! I’m spending the weekend on a “one-person retreat” to create a marketing plan for my old-but-new 🙂 online marketing/web development business, and this is an excellent outline to follow! In fact, may I have permission to re-post it to my own KnowledgeBase blog? Your advice is applicable to any business owner–whether artsy or otherwise. (I also have an artist friend to whom I will definitely pass it on.) Thanks for your generous sharing!

  3. Finding what your saying very true for me, I have done many complimentary courses. Now realise the amount of time, money and self input I have put into a business that just barely ticks over. Always found it hard to value time, some healers seem to have this as a common problem, seeing it as Gift and as such charging for time, knowledge and effort has been difficult. I realise I have to see what I am offering is unique and a lot of work. It’s a service now time to get off my butt and get web abd Blog organised. Being unknown and unseen is way too expensive and very self destructive. So thank you. To the future of abundance….Bless You, Margaret

  4. I love the way you were able to take a new angle to this much talked about marketing problem. I think it’s the way you talk about your own experience while still relating it back to us. Very useful post, very well done Leanne. We want to know what’s next!

    1. Hi Laure! Sometimes it’s useful to at least be an example of what NOT to do. 😉

      But seriously, if my experiences help others, then it was worth it.

      Lots of upcoming stuff planned, guess I better get to it!

  5. This is yet another great post Leanne. Thanks so much for sharing and inspiring us through your experiences. It’s very easy to let marketing slide; and then hard to get back on track. As usual, you create a pathway to help entrepreneurs get back on track more easily.

  6. Great Post Leanne.

    I agree with you completely on how sometimes we just let things slip too easily into a type of equilibrium until something knocks us off that inertia and into a new place.

    I’m on a mission to help evolve consciousness in business and when I’ve had set backs like yours, I did find them full of opportunity and yet full of challenges.

    I read a book recently called “Managing Transitions – Making the most of change” by William Bridges that could be an excellent resource for business owners, leaders, or team members in this audience.

    When my business partner and I decided to change our company and I accepted the buy-out, it was a scary moment for me. I spent a couple of months not sure what I wanted to do. I did some job hunting, did some consulting, and often times did nothing until a clear thought and direction came to me.

    Now that I’m on the other side of that process, it feels great. While I’m not successful in the new direction yet, I can feel the future is bright and see the success you are having as a beacon of hope for my future endeavors.

    I would add to this, that while getting the plans and script down is useful and necessary, sometimes listening in the quiet moments to your inner most guide, can sometimes provide insights into the best course of action.

    Warm Regards,

    Joseph

    1. You’re so right, Joseph. I fully agree that intuition is a valuable guide. I wish I had learned that sooner, but I’m glad I learned it eventually! 😉

      I was mainly referring to the nuts and bolts, “ok, this is what I have to do, how do I best do it?” scenario.

      I don’t regret the times I took to focus on creation, in the future I’ll just try to have more solid systems and support in place.

      Best to you – I have a feeling you’re going to do just great!

  7. Well, I’m very, very glad I read this as I, too, am a music instructor and musician. I also spent too long (a couple years) blaming my lack of marketing efforts for my lack of income back when I was recording my last CD. Great info here. I have to thank you for writing it (and of course I have to thank Danny for publishing it!)

    1. You’re very welcome, Dan. Glad you can relate! Making a CD is a huge undertaking in itself (as you know) – so congratulations on that. In the end, all we can do is our best. Best not to beat ourselves up, I think – just get back on track!

      Rock on!

  8. That’s a great post Leanne.
    There are instances that you have to juggle between a lot of things that you start but can’t just concentrate on one and finish them. This type of posts truly inspires us to work properly in order to gain success in marketing.

    1. So true, Arbaz. I don’t know any business owner who isn’t juggling a lot. It comes with the territory. So we have to find the best ways to adapt. Glad you found some inspiration here!

  9. Great blog post Leanne! I just wrote a very similar blog post ( still in draft mode) about my struggles with marketing, not charging enough, and suffering from burn-out. That’s why I decided to go back to the drawing board, and figure out how I can offer REAL value to the audience who needs me most. The new marketing medium I am testing and trying is Facebook ads. Thanks for sharing your story! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Nina. Charging enough is SO important, isn’t it? We could probably write entire books just on that topic. Raising prices is a scary thing to do, but once you do it, what a wonderful relief! All the best to you.

  10. Hi Leanne, I love what you’ve communicated here and I love your writing style. We’re still a good ways behind you in our development of the audience-based side of our business model (working on two separate startups will do that) ;0)–but I really think we might be able to work together on some stuff in the not-too-distant future. Check out our landing page/home page for where we stand right now and if there’s something interesting to you there, drop me a line and let’s talk.

  11. Leanne, thanks for this very meaty run-down of all the actions you took (not to mention the “whys” behind them and the takeaway points).

    Even though your plan was designed with your very specific business in mind, the takeaway for ME is the mindset with which you went about doing what you needed to. That’s applicable to me and every other entrepreneur out there.

    Awesome stuff here. 🙂

    1. I was hoping that by getting specific, people might actually be able to better relate my experiences to their situations and adapt them to suit their own.

      Glad to know my strategy was successful for you! 😉

  12. I LOVE the statement of being only interested to a promotion of self-employment! That is spot on!! Thank you for sharing. Your takeaways are gems. This post brings a humanity and realness that is inspiring and encouraging.

  13. Nothing like having a gun to your head (figuratively, of course) to get motivated.

    Losing a job, or losing a couple large clients has a way of snapping you into reality real quick and getting creative, doesn’t it. Its weird how when you’re faced with a crisis, you magically get these Incredible Hulk superpowers that come out of nowhere. When I figure out how to consistently manifest these superpowers without first being faced with a crisis, I’ll let you know!

    Great post, Leanne.

  14. Hi Leanne:
    I am just beginning a free lance writing site. After several months of reading everything I could find, I am starting to put my pieces together.
    This post on marketing is excellent for me. You are so clear and concise.
    I want to wish you greater and greater success.
    My website is under construction as we speak.
    elsawrites.com
    Free Lance Writer

  15. Thanks Leanne for your open and honest account….life does get in the way and I know how easy it is to get sidetrack and I found it encouraging to read your post and MEGA thanks for the link to Danny’s Business Optimisation Framework..signed up and looking forward to healthy recovery also. Keep singing and following your heart. Thank you

    1. You’re welcome, Ntathu. Danny’s got some great stuff there, down to templates you can use. I’m sure they’ll help you.

      I think it’s important for us to share our challenges and struggles, not in a negative or complaining way, but to let people know – hey, you’re not alone, if you screw up or slack off it’s not the end of the world, here’s how you can get back on track.

      Best of luck to you!

    2. You’re very welcome, Ntathu. Danny’s got some great advice, info and templates in there – I’m sure they will help you.

      I think it’s super important to share our struggles & challenges – not from a negative, complain-y standpoint but to let others know – hey, you’re not alone, we’ve all been there, it’s not the end, here’s what you can do to fix things.

      Best of luck to you!

  16. Well, I already thought you were awesome, Leanne, but now I’m even more impressed. Next time I feel like slacking, I’ll just imagine you singing me into action. 😉

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