When it comes time to start focusing on marketing your business, it’s sometimes tough to know where to begin. Some startups and small business owners attack their marketing strategy head on, some dabble, and others avoid dealing with marketing until it’s impossible to ignore any longer. But, if you find yourself at a point where you’re considering hiring a marketing consultant, virtual assistant, or another type of freelancer to help spread the word about your product or service, there are a few questions you should ask yourself before you sign on the dotted line.
1. Do you know what you’re trying to sell?
You’d be surprised, but many women I’ve spoken to recently find themselves SO excited about the idea of starting a business, that they haven’t really nailed down what it is exactly their business will be selling. Before you start shelling out your hard-earned cash for ebooks on branding, seminars on Facebook ads, sales funnel courses, etc. you need to know what you’re selling. It’s okay if you haven’t quite figured out specifically who your ideal client/customer is, that vision will come with time. What you DO need is a strong understanding of what you’re selling and why people will want to buy it.
Are you offering a service?
Selling a physical product?
How much is your service or product worth?
How did you arrive at that number?
What problem is your product or service solving?
How many people do you think need a solution for that problem?
Do you think your product or service will be well received by your target audience?
This last question is pretty essential. If you’re developing an online course, coaching programs, an ebook, or a widget of your very own creation, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself without considering your audience. Before you dump a ton of time, energy, and money into development, consider surveying your audience via email or social media (more on this soon).
2. Are you ready to check your email?
Ah, the glorious digital age. Love it, or hate it, there’s no point in fighting it. Nowadays, it’s a heck of a lot easier to keep in touch with people (clients, friends, family, employees) when you have a friendly relationship with technology. If you’re considering hiring a marketing consultant, virtual assistant, freelancer, or bringing any other type of helper onto your team, you must be willing to check your email. Now, I’m not saying that you need to answer every email that hits your inbox the moment it arrives, but before joining forces with a consultant, you must be open to keeping in touch.
I’ve worked with a few ladies in the past who weren’t huge fans of technology, but each of them knew they needed to be online to grow their business, which is why they reached out to me. (Yay for stepping outside your comfort zone!) But soon enough, because they were generally resistant to dealing with technology, they’d often ignore their inboxes or voicemail boxes for days at a time, resulting in lost business, missed deadlines, and left me feeling pretty confused about the status of our project. I would never ask you to be a slave to your inbox, and I am always a fan of taking designated tech-breaks to unplug and relax, but it’s really helpful to know that someone I’m working with will eventually get back to me when I drop them a line.
Consider scheduling a specific time each day (or each week) that you will focus on your inbox, and answer any time-sensitive questions or inquiries that come in. Feel free to let your customers and consultants know that you check your inbox at that specific time--you can even create an automatic email responder that states this fact--so if they need a response ASAP, they know when to expect your reply. And, I’d always recommend being super clear and honest with your consultant about what’s going on, and if you’re too busy to address something, just say so. We are all human, and we all understand that you have other important things to attend to in your life. After all, work isn't everything! Just be honest about the times you're not available, and the deadlines you expect your consultant, VA, or client to adhere to. Clear communication is key to any relationship, and your relationship with your business support system is no exception.
3. Do you really know who you’re marketing to?
Are you selling handmade bath products to vegans who love organic veggies and bubble baths? Are you selling resume templates to creative job hunters? Are you a life coach, network marketer, yoga instructor, or spiritual guide? No matter what services or products you provide, it’s always helpful to have a clear vision of who you want to get in front of.
Take a moment to close your eyes, and envision a group of 5 customers have just walked through the door to your shop. Or 5 people have just clicked your link and are now cruising through your website. Or 5 potential clients have just called you to book a consultation. Pay close attention to what you see in your mind’s eye.
How old is each person in the group, or better yet, what stage in life are they currently experiencing?
What are they looking for?
Where are they from?
What do they do for fun?
How much money do they want to spend?
What are a few of their favorite things?
You can make this imaginary character as simple or as detailed as you wish, but the more details you envision, the more likely it is that a very similar person will be your next client.
Some examples could be:
A new mom in her twenties who enjoys pizza, running 5K races, reading historical fiction. She makes $55K per year, and has a husband who makes about the same. She values time-savers, discount coupons, and takes pride in DIY.
A busy first-time homeowner with two dogs, a record collection, and a burning desire to write/draw a graphic novel. He prefers to invest in a few high-quality items (furniture, clothing, appliances) rather than by lots of low-quality items, and he enjoys purchasing goods and services from companies who support his local community.
A 40-something single motorcycle enthusiast who loves learning new languages, baking, and watching any TV show that involves Alaska. She makes $80K per year, and spends her extra cash on upgrades for her bike, or flights to visit friends around the country. She rarely eats out when she’s not traveling, and enjoys entertaining in her home.
See? The possibilities are endless. I highly recommend you make time to sit down in your favorite chair or go for a walk, put on your invisible (or visible) thinking cap, and let yourself freely brainstorm. Your imaginary customer/client doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, nor is your first description cast in stone. It can change and transform as often as you like. But, having a basic vision of your ideal audience will make it easier for your marketing consultant to fine-tune your messaging, your brand, website design, and email campaigns to make sure they catch the eye of the people you truly want to reach.
4. Why do YOU buy certain things, and pass over others?
Think about the most recent item you purchased, either online or in a brick-and-mortar store. What did you buy? Does the item come in different shapes, colors, or styles? Do many different companies make this thing, or does one company dominate the market? Why did you choose the item/service you did? Did the price point weigh heavily into your decision to purchase? Why or why not?
Take a moment to consider the factors that come into play when you decide to give your hard-earned money to someone else in exchange for a product or service. There will be certain companies you trust and value more than others. Ask yourself, why you do I feel this way?
If you can get clear on a few of the reasons you value others’ products and services, you can better get in touch with your own business and personal values. And the better you understand the value of your own product or service, the more helpful your marketing consultant can be in helping you display and articulate the true value of your fantastic product or service.
5. Does technology make you nervous?
Full disclosure: I’m a tech junkie. I love downloading new apps, discovering new gadgets, and uncovering cool new ways technology can enhance my everyday life. But, I know that not everyone loves tech as much as I do. If you’re terrified of learning a new internet platform, baffled by blogging, or totally frustrated with the concept of tweeting, it’s okay. It’s totally natural to feel resistance when trying out something new. But the key thing here is not to worry about how much you already know and feel comfortable with--it’s your level of willingness to try, fail once in awhile, and keep learning.
I’ve worked with countless clients who have never heard of Google Hangouts, rarely check their emails, would rather post pictures of their pets on Facebook rather than selfies, and can’t even say “SEO” or “Wordpress” or "squeeze page" without sweating a little. But the people that get the most out of our work together are the ones who are willing to say, “yes, SEO freaks me out, and I don’t know anything about blogging, but I’m willing to give it a try.”
If you find yourself halting in your tracks, shouting a resounding “no way” when anyone suggests you present yourself or your business on the internet, then you’re probably not ready to launch an internet-based business, or work with a marketing consultant who specializes in online marketing. And that’s okay! After all, you have to do what’s right for you. At the end of the day, it's best to follow your gut and be true to your values, regardless of profit.
When choosing a marketing consultant, be sure to choose someone you feel comfortable with, and comfortably challenged by. A gentle push is good for growth and learning; a hard shove is not. If he or she makes you feel like you’re stupid for not being more tech savvy, RUN. You deserve to work with someone who’s helpful, kind, informed, patiently answers your questions, and knows when to say, “don’t worry, I can handle this part for you.”
6. Do you believe in your own product?
This one can apply to almost any business owner, but I want to send a little shout out to you network marketers/ direct sales people out there. For those who are unfamiliar, network marketing (aka direct marketing or direct sales) is a business that focuses on selling a well-developed line of products, and relies on individuals to independently promote the brand by word of mouth. Think: Rodan & Fields (LOVE the Overnight Restorative Face Cream), Thrive (obsessed with the Vanilla Lifestyle Mix), and LuLaRoe (holy leggings, Batman).
For traditional business owners and entrepreneurs, it’s generally pretty easy to believe in your own product because, well, it’s your baby. For network marketers, you get to adopt someone else’s product, along with the convenience of their already-designed marketing materials, support system, distribution center, and sales guidelines--but there is a catch. In order to make any type of significant income in direct marketing, you’ve got to LOVE the product. You have to “drink the Kool-aid,” as they say. Eat, sleep, and breathe the brand.
Why? Because despite outward appearances, consumers generally have really efficient bullshit detectors. They can tell when you’re pushing a supplement or lipstick you’re not absolutely obsessed with, and as soon as your cover is blown, your message falls on deaf ears. If you’re not in love with the product, why would they fall in love with it? When you’re choosing a product or service to market, make sure you really believe in it. Get psyched about it. That way, when you bring a marketing professional onto your team, you can help him or her fall in love with your product too, prompting your messaging to SHINE in a sea of sameness.
We can all tell when someone is truly passionate about something, and passion is contagious. When you choose to work with a marketing consultant, pick someone who understands your passion. They should put it on like a superhero cape, and launch out into the universe ready to fire off passion-laser-beams like a Power Ranger after two double espressos.
7. Are you putting out fires, or paddling out ahead of the wave?
A few years ago, I worked for a non-profit organization in Boston whose mission I was really jazzed about. I could talk about our cause, our programs, and our tribe all day long. Talking about work made my eyes light up and ignited a fire in my belly. But, unfortunately, businesses and organizations can’t run on passion alone. Because we were very understaffed, and I still had TONS to learn about effectively promoting and operating a charity organization, it often felt like we spent our days putting out fires. We were scrambling to resolve problems after they happened, instead of getting out in front and putting systems in place to prevent those issues from happening in the first place.
Putting out fires gets exhausting FAST, and when you’re constantly stuck in reactive work patterns, as opposed to proactive ones, your business won’t have the breathing room to grow and evolve. When you go out looking for a marketing whiz to help you get more eyeballs on your brand, do a temperature check on your processes. Are you constantly panicking and racing to resolve issues, or do you often feel calm, centered, and ahead of the game? It’s really helpful to be upfront with your marketing consultant about where you are business-wise, where you’d like to be, and when you hope to get there. Then, she will have the opportunity to create a custom plan that will take some of the weight off your shoulders, make some of your processes simpler, and help you achieve your business goals on time, financial or otherwise.
8. Would you enjoy sitting down to have a casual beverage with this person?
When I first started my business, I was so eager to launch that I made of habit of agreeing to work with anyone who asked. I said “yes” to almost everything, and although making people happy is one of my favorite things in life, it didn’t take long for me to overcommit, under-deliver, and disappoint not only my clients, but myself too. I’d hit a familiar wall, wallow over a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, and insist for the hundredth time that I would just have to cut back on sleep, limit time spent with family and friends, and cancel any non-work related commitments so I could focus on pleasing the amazing people who hired me.
I’m sure you can already guess where I’m going with this. I was on a high speed train headed straight to burnouts-ville, and my immune system was getting pretty annoyed with all the 5-Hour Energy drinks I guzzled to stay awake, and the daily chomping of antacid tablets to soothe my nervous stomach. Luckily, the train came to a stop at a really good time, and although I was disappointed (and felt a little like a failure) that some clients didn’t renew their contracts with me, I knew it was for the best. I needed to take a break, and reevaluate.
Around this time, I was chatting via FaceTime with an old friend who was also helping me out with a graphic design project, and we started talking about a woman who had recently bailed on both of us just as she was about to sign our respective contracts. When this almost-client realized that she wouldn’t get certain work for free, she decided against working with us. We both agreed that it was probably for the best, and she likely moved on to work with another freelancer whose values more closely aligned with hers.
The whole point of this story is that we vowed in that moment that we would no longer enter into contract with a client that we wouldn’t want to grab a beer with (#beerclients). In other words, when you are getting to know a potential marketing consultant, a client, a bookkeeper, an accountant, a mentor--anyone you’ll invite to participate in your inner circle-- it’s super important to ensure that your values mesh, you enjoy speaking with them, and you are both on the same page in terms of expectations. This vetting strategy isn’t a new one, but it’s a fantastic tool to have in your back pocket at all times. It encourages you to pay attention to your gut, and listen to your intuition, which will never steer you wrong.
Want to read weird and kinda-awesome story about how Intuitive Ink was born? Click here.