I was discussing my numbers with my accountant recently, and she noted that I don’t spend a lot of money on marketing. “If I could figure out where to spend money that would consistently send good leads my way, I would throw money at it,” I told her. Most of our business comes from referrals, which is amazing, but not very predictable; another good chunk comes from SEO, people searching and finding us via Google, but again, it’s not as predictable as I’d like. I’ve experimented with several other marketing methods over the last six to nine months, but none has resulted in a steady, consistent stream of leads — which is what I was hoping for.
And my accountant started asking me, well have you got a good profile of your ideal customer? Do you know what her pain points are? Where she likes to hang out? Have you got a clear description of how you solve her problem?
I admit, I bristled behind my smile.
Of course I have those things, I thought. I’ve only been doing this for SEVEN YEARS. I immediately felt defensive. I have a successful business; I don’t need my accountant to walk me through marketing 101!
But the thing is… she’s not wrong.
If my marketing funnel isn’t working the way I want it to, I need to go back to basics to determine why that is. I need to reexamine my ideal customer profile; do I need to niche down or clarify it? I need to go back and really review if I’m talking about my ideal customer’s pain points in her words instead of mine. I need to reassess where I’m promoting my content, to ensure I’m reaching the right folks at the right time.
In other words, I need to swallow my misplaced pride in being a “successful business owner” and go back to basics.
Weirdly, as soon as I figured this out, I started noticing it in other places, too.
I had a call with a potential client this week, and she said, “I’ve been writing this newsletter for eight years, and I know this sounds crazy, but all of the sudden it feels like I don’t know what to write any more, or why I’m even sending it…”
Not so crazy…
I had the opportunity to join a business mastermind this year for a program I’m doing. The women are in all different kinds of businesses, at all different stages, but one refrain seems to be jumping out in our meetings:
Every time an issue comes up, it seems that the answer is to go back to basics.
And while this is pretty universally good advice, it’s also universally bringing up a lot of stuff for all of us…
We’re talking big time feelings of shame, self-doubt, comparison, and a heavy dose of imposter complex. It’s the feeling of, “I should be further along than this… I should be able to figure this out… What’s wrong with me that I’m still struggling…?”
And while those thoughts seem to be super common, they’re also not helpful.
Approaching marketing with beginner’s mind
There’s a term in Zen Buddhism known as shoshin or beginner’s mind. It refers to the idea of “having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.”
I’ve heard business colleagues including Adrienne Dorison and Kendrick Shope start their trainings by asking students to put aside any thoughts like, “I already know this,” and try to be as open to the training as though they were learning it for the first time. That’s because, when we think things like “I already know this,” or, “This is very basic,” we actually shut down our brains from taking in anything new. But sometimes the same information, presented in a different way, lands completely differently for us.
I remember when I was a junior in high school, I got an after school job working with a woman who tutored kids to take the SATs. It didn’t occur to me that she would tutor me, and so I didn’t mention that I was taking my SATs until the day before the test. She freaked out and insisted on giving me a crash course. English wasn’t a problem for me, so we spent about an hour working on math concepts.
I had, of course, had YEARS of math instruction at school, but in that hour, she was able to clarify concepts for me that I had always struggled with, just by teaching them in a different way. In a single hour of tutoring, she helped me raise my SAT math score by over 100 points. Instead of assuming that I “already knew” how to do quadratic equations, or whatever it was, she started teaching as though I were a beginner — and I was open to learning as a beginner — and that made all the difference.
I think the same is true in business. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in business, or how successful you’ve been in the past; when presented with a challenge, it’s important to adopt a beginner’s mind-mindset to be open to all the possible solutions and strategies — even the ones you think you already know, or have already done.
Going back to marketing basics
For me, and for the women in this business mastermind group I’m attending, the same few marketing questions keep coming up over and over again:
- Who is your target audience? — The more specific you can get, the better. Generalizations aren’t helpful here, and if you’re struggling to reach the people you want to reach, you may need to get even more specific (in other words, niche down).
- Who isn’t a good fit for you? — In a sales training I attended recently, sales consultant Aandra Bohlen asked us to think of one question we could ask on an application that would easily qualify or disqualify candidates from working with us. If it’s a yes, they’re in, and if it’s a no, they won’t even be offered a chance to get on a phone call. Amazingly, I am still struggling with what this one question might be for me…
- What problem do they have? — It’s amazing how we all struggle with this question! Many of us know the solution we present like the backs of our hands, but we struggle to describe the problem. OR, the problem our customers think they have is different from the problem we know they have, and so there’s a mismatch in how we’re communicating about it.
- How is your solution going to provide relief? — In our group, many of us know that what we do and what we provide is valuable, but we seem to have trouble articulating the distance between A and B; but if we can’t describe how our solution directly solves the problem that the customer has, we’re going to struggle to sell.
- How are you communicating that message to those people? — This is where my team and I come in, because it is our zone of genius to help businesses figure out the best strategic way to communicate the right message to the right people at the right time and place — but all of that other work has to come first!
Even if you have done these exercises and answered these questions a million times before for you business, I encourage you to approach them with beginner’s mind and go through them again — because like everything in life, our businesses are fluid. They change constantly.
This business I have now is nothing like the one I started seven years ago. So if I am relying on the same answers I used seven years ago, there’s going to be a mismatch. In fact, things have changed for us in the last year, in the last six months even, not dramatically, but in small but significant ways — and if I’m not revisiting these marketing basics as often as my business is shifting, I’m potentially setting myself up for trouble down the line.
Feeling a bit humbled, my task going into the second quarter of this year is to go back to basics, to reassess what I think I already know about my own marketing, to try to approach it all with beginner’s mind. My job is also going to be to treat myself with some grace, because it’s not only OK to need to revisit these things, it’s vital.
Needing to go back to basics with marketing is not an indication that we’re a failure, but that our businesses are changing and growing. Getting some expert help to address these things can act as a way to trigger our beginner’s mind, and help you see what you may be too close to your business to see. But whether you decide to hire an expert at any point or not, I encourage you to go back to basics, approach your marketing with beginner’s mind, and don’t listen to the voices telling you that you “should” have already figured this out.
(And that’s a message as much to me as it is to you!)