Why It’s So Hard to Market Yourself

Why do entrepreneurs have such a hard time marketing themselves? It’s a problem that I had to overcome in my business and it has been a major limiting factor in the success of people who ultimately seek my help.

By and large, entrepreneurs and small business people are very good at what they do. Most of my clients are true experts in their fields — they’ve been working in their industry for years, they are educated, innovative, and passionate about what they do. But, their marketing tactics (what there are of them) have them spinning their wheels while undermining their expertise.

For example, it seems that every coach has been taught the same marketing strategy of offering free “discovery” calls. Right off the bat, a free discovery call with no qualifying hoops to jump through decreases the value of both the call and the coach. On top of that, they aren’t taught how to attract the right people to those calls (more qualifying hoops) and they aren’t taught how to convert that person to a client. When it is time to making their offer and close the deal, they back off.

I see it happen in every industry. When it comes to marketing ourselves and our businesses, our stomachs knot up and we freeze. It’s uncomfortable at best.

I recently watched Rachel Maddow, who has written a new book called Bag Man, literally squirm and apologize when she pumped her book. She held up a note she had written to herself as a reminder to mention her virtual book tour, something she admitted she had “forgotten to do” for the past three nights.

Rachel Maddow is on TV every night. She interacts with people from just about every level of society. She is smart, poised, together. She is that kid in class who started her projects the day they were assigned and who over-prepares for every situation. You know before you start reading that Bag Man is going to be thoroughly researched, well written, and entertaining. Yet she was visibly uncomfortable promoting her book. (And I put an Amazon link in there because I feel Rachel’s pain.)

For many entrepreneurs, they are the face of their business. They are the person who is carrying out the sales calls as well as delivering the services. The main sticking point I hear is “I don’t want to be salesy” or “I don’t feel comfortable tooting my own horn.” Good. No one likes that blowhard who is all about how wonderful he or she is, even (or maybe especially) when it is couched as “the humble brag.”

Your marketing is not about you. It’s about the people you help.

Good marketing isn’t about you; it’s about what you can do for your clients. My clients are problem solvers: they are largely coaches and consultants, and, as an outgrowth of that, speakers and authors. They have a track record of creating results for their clients. Unfortunately, their marketing doesn’t reflect that. They think they have to be someone that they aren’t — more famous, thinner, shinier, anything-but-what-I-am-er. While you are your own differentiating factor, it’s not about you. In fact, most people don’t care that you got a special certification or if you went to a second-tier university. They care about whether or not you deliver results. So, tell them about the results you deliver.

When you make that switch, you’re no longer blowing your own horn. You’re telling stories of your clients’ successes. Yes, they are your successes, too. But you have put a degree of separation in your marketing that allows those successes to reflect back on you, rather than you being out front shouting it to the masses.

Market with Purpose

There are many marketing avenues available, both offline and online, and that presents its own problem. It takes time and research to determine which avenues have the best chance of working for your specific business. Without that initial marketing research, people tend to try anything and everything, the scattershot approach, which leaves them with an empty wallet and at best, clients they don’t particularly like working with.

Just as you want to avoid the “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” scenario, you don’t want to be all things to all people. There are certain people who I can’t help or whose needs don’t fit the parameters of the work I like to do. I do my best to refer those people to someone who can help them. That’s hard for a small businessperson to do when they are first starting out or when the wolf is at the door. It’s taken me years to get to that level. If I had done it earlier, I may have been happier in my work sooner. Or, my business may have crashed and burned. Hindsight isn’t always 20/20. Sometimes you can’t be picky. But the right marketing brings in the right people for your business and makes those choices easier.

I am a big fan of content marketing. I show my clients how to relate their clients’ successes in the context of helping other people to succeed — to bring prospects into their pipeline by giving actionable information. Many people worry about “giving away the farm” and I have been known to complain about the big marketing gurus moving the free line to levels where the average person can’t compete.

For me and most of my clients, this is not a stumbling block. The truth is that we don’t need or want to work with the masses. We’re not looking to scale our businesses to the eight-figure mark. (I refer those people to a peer who specializes in that.) I help my clients niche down their marketing focus so they attract people they want to work with, who are looking for specific results, and who resonate with the way they do business.

Once we determine who the content is targeted towards, we can create content with specific goals. So much content marketing is just content, no marketing. All of your content needs to have a purpose behind it; it needs to direct your specific targeted audience to take some form of action. Otherwise, you are giving away the farm.

Give Your Marketing and Yourself Time

Second guessing yourself is what kills the consistency necessary for marketing success. Marketing takes time, unless you can afford a huge (expensive) push or get one from someone else’s platform. You can’t send out one email or one direct mail piece and expect to be flooded with people clamoring to work with you. There’s a warm up period to every good relationship, a time where you get to know each other.

When you start a marketing strategy, have a clear time line in mind (and on paper) of when you should start seeing results and what kind of results you expect. If you’re advertising in a monthly magazine, you likely won’t see quantitative results until you’re six to eight months in. If you’re blogging, your website might not gain Google attention until you have 20 or more posts up. And even then, it may not gain attention. Blogging is usually a slow but steady nurture activity. Ads, done right, are faster. Getting them right is the trick.

Decide on a strategy that is right for you and your business. In my book, The 8 Step Marketing Plan for Small Businesses, I recommend that you start with three strategies, balancing them for short and long term results and weighing them against the amount of time and money each strategy will take. Let those strategies run for at least the length of time you have set and track your results. With hard data in hand, you no longer need to second guess yourself. You will know what is working and what isn’t. If a strategy doesn’t work, it wasn’t wasted effort. That data helps you better focus your next marketing effort and can help you refine your other marketing strategies.

Give It Your All

I don’t know anybody who started a business with the goal of failing. (Exception, see: The Producers.) Running a business is hard. You won’t have all the answers and you are going to try some things that don’t work as well as you expected or maybe don’t work at all. You might not have the success you expected in the time frame you set. When that happens, self-sabotage begins. You start to second guess yourself. You lose confidence. You start chasing shiny objects.

Stop making half-hearted marketing attempts. Stop trying every shiny object marketing strategy you hear on webinars. Think about what is right for you and your business, what your clients want, and how you can get in front of your future clients. Create a plan, give it your very best effort, then give it the time to actually work for you.

Barbara is a writer, speaker, and marketing consultant. She specializes in helping business authors leverage their books. Learn how: https://barbaragrassey.com/

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